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November 12, 2017

Matt Kenseth

Jason Ratcliff

Avondale, Arizona

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winning team, the No. 20 Circle K Toyota. We have crew chief Jason Ratcliff, driver in the middle, Matt Kenseth, and then Coach Joe Gibbs, the car owner. We're going to let each of you guys talk about the finish of the race there and what this win means for you.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, I mean, it means the world to me. I think for us, we've been really close this season, and just hadn't quite been able to put it all together and close the deal, and you know, knowing that the situation where Matt is going to go into a different season in his life maybe in a few weeks, we were hoping that, hey, if we could get back to Victory Lane, that would be awesome. To be able to come here, especially to Phoenix, which is, I think, one of Matt's favorite tracks as well as mine, we've always performed well here, so to come here and get a win, you know, tops it off, kind of puts an exclamation point on the season for us.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, you want me to talk about the finish of the race? That finish was awesome. That was the best part of the race. That's all I've got. (Laughter.)
JOE GIBBS: By the way, he's got one of the best senses of humor. You've got to hang around with him a little bit to get it, though. It's pretty dry.
Matt deserves this. It's just awesome today seeing him get this. All he's done for us here, the races that he's drove his heart out. Jason said it best. This year just hasn't‑‑ there's times that they've been there but just haven't been able to get it. To see him get it for his future and for his great family that he has, just wishing him‑‑ man, I hope this does great things for him. So it's a thrill for us.
The other thing is Circle K and DeWalt, Stanley Black & Decker is the main company there, but DeWalt is on that car. For Circle K, I think as a new sponsor coming on board, signed on to be with Matt, to get this win today ‑‑ I was just calling the executives at that company, and everybody here knows how important it is to have a great sponsor. I think that sponsorship is going to be terrific going forward, and so it's a thrill for us to have DeWalt on there. Matt has raced earlier when he was with Roush with DeWalt. He comes back and races with them again.
So it's a thrill for us. I wish that everybody‑‑ I think about J.D. being home and Coy up here with me, but from our standpoint, I wished everybody back home could have been up here with us to enjoy this because so many people there working on the race cars. But we just all want to say a big thanks to Matt.

Q. Matt, when was the last time you cried before today?
MATT KENSETH: Before today? I wish you would have thrown that last part out. I would have said 20 minutes ago. I don't know, I try never to let anybody see me cry, but I'm kind of an emotional guy typically, honestly. I just try to hide it well. That's why I always sit in the back row of the drivers' meeting, back pew at church.
I don't know, to be serious for about two minutes, I'll try. It's just been quite a journey, and today was a really special day for me, to know that next week is almost for sure my last week behind the wheel. You know, to be able to have such a long season and kick it off like this, a lot of things I don't really understand, but I probably knew around August that it really wasn't meant for me to be racing anymore at this level, you know, going forward.
With that, I probably fought it for too long and kind of looked at different opportunities and thought about doing something different, but then just really embraced it, and not many people get to go out in really good cars and win races and have a chance to win a championship. It's really a blessing to be able to go to work every day and work as hard as you can on it, put everything into it that you've got and finally get one here.
We've had a lot of close ones ever since I felt like the snowball was here last fall; we were 10 seconds away from going to the Championship 4 and caught that late caution and get wrecked in that restart. Ever since then, just it never feels like it's meant to be, and today was definitely meant to be. We made it happen, the guys made it happen on pit road and got me in front of Denny, which was a key moment of the race, and thankfully I was able to get back around Chase there at the end, so it was a pretty special day. Hard to describe.

Q. Matt, you probably know more about how tires are going to react than most of the Goodyear people‑‑
MATT KENSETH: That's a low blow. Right away you've got to throw that little stab in there.

Q. Did you assume that when Chase got around you that you would have the chance, at least the chance at getting back?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, honestly the first‑‑ whenever you're leading and get all them cautions, it drives me crazy. As you put cycles on the car, it'll act a little different, but every restart fired off pretty much the same, and I kind of knew what I wanted to do inside of the car and where I wanted things to be set, and for whatever reason that restart I fired off really loose, and I just couldn't hold him off. Honestly when he cleared me, I had that feeling of dread, and I'm like, I can't believe I'm going to let another one of these get away. We've just had so many close ones get away at the end of these races for a multitude of reasons.
You know, so at that moment, no, but he got in front of me, and it tightened my car up and I was really able to get off Turn 2 really well, and I saw him slip the first time, and I was like, he might start coming back, and then he slipped the second time, and I felt a little better about it, and then the third slip he had was a big one, I gained about three car lengths, and I kind of started honestly got the tingles from head to toe, and I knew it was on and we were going to have a race. I felt pretty good when I saw that last one, and I'm like, I'm at least going to get there and we're going to have a race.

Q. I know you've won 39 races now in the series; Daytona was a huge one, and the first one in the Busch Series was big. Is there any way to kind of rank where this one, given all the things‑‑ where this one is going to fit?
MATT KENSETH: You know, I've never had a bad one. I mean, I can rank the losses a lot easier than the wins to be honest with you because I have way more losses than wins. I've screwed up a lot more of them than I've done right. Certainly just a special day. I mean, it's hard to rank it. I wish Katie and the kids could have been here is the only thing that would have made it better. But it was pretty neat to have a lot of your peers come and congratulate you, and even at the end to be able to drive by all the fans and could actually hear them yelling over the car and hear them in the window. I mean, it was just a really, really special day for a lot of reasons. It will probably more sink in here in the next couple weeks. But it's hard to rank them. They don't get much better than that, though.

Q. Expounding on when you got out of the car and you heard the crowd just going wild that you had won the race, did that surprise you in any way?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know, I didn't have any expectations, know what I mean? I just‑‑ somewhat spontaneous, and I was pretty darned excited, so I was happy to be able to share the experience of getting that win obviously with all the fans here. Without the race fans we can't do it. Without the race fans buying our sponsors' products and supporting them, we certainly can't be at the racetrack, so they had another sold‑out crowd today which was awesome, and to be able to win it in front of them, that was really neat.

Q. You mentioned that a lot of guys were coming up and talking to you and telling you things. What were they saying to you sort of as a general theme, and is there anything in particular that one person said to you that's kind of sticking with you?
MATT KENSETH: Well, everybody was happy except for Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, so I'm flying home with Jamie tonight, and that's the first thing I do; I was like, hey, Coach, you got a couple seats in your plane so I can get a ride home and he says, no. So Jamie and Kyle are sitting there waiting on me right now, so I think everybody was‑‑ I don't think they were very happy. No, I don't know, just it was really neat. Chase came down, Ryan Blaney and Kyle came up and saw me at the finish line, so it's always neat when your peers come and congratulate you. That always makes you feel good.

Q. I know you need a ride for this to happen, should something like that happen to occur, but does today's win make you want to rethink where next year is for you as a driver? Meaning if something does open up, will you consider it?
MATT KENSETH: I mean, it's not that there hasn't been any opportunities and nothing opened, it's just nothing really felt right to me. Throughout my career and my life really, kind of there's certain things that you know is right and things line up and it's just kind of easy, and then there's things that you can fight, and at the end of the day, it just wasn't the right thing. If anything it just reaffirms my decision to step away next year, honestly. Like I said, there's not a lot of people that get to go out like this. It was a special, special day and I'm looking forward to next week and hopefully trying to race them again one more time.

Q. After the race Mario Andretti tweeted, if I had a NASCAR team you'd be my driver. Will you check social media when you get a chance tonight to see what everybody said?
MATT KENSETH: Absolutely not. I do not check social media. I don't know if you know this, but there's a lot of people that say mean stuff and like to fight on there. That's what somebody told me anyway. Yeah, that's really neat, but I think he'd probably be crazy to own a race team, right, Coach?
JOE GIBBS: Yes. That's the easy answer.
MATT KENSETH: One thing Coach has always told me is the drivers are the ones who have got it the best, and I can't really argue with him on that one.

Q. Will you really not check social media at all?
MATT KENSETH: No, not at all.

Q. Six of the last seven races at Homestead you've finished inside the top 10. What is it about that track that suits your driving ability?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know, I feel like every racetrack starts with having fast race cars. Obviously there's some that you're better at than others, but you know, when I came to JGR some of my worst tracks turned into some of my best tracks. New Hampshire was my worst track ‑‑ New Hampshire and Martinsville were my worst two tracks on the circuit, now they're probably two of my ‑‑ New Hampshire is probably the best and Martinsville is probably in the top 10. So it's funny how it works, just different things work‑‑ Texas used to be one of my best tracks, and for whatever reason when Jason and I went there the first three years we ran terrible. It's hard to figure sometimes, but I feel like most of it starts with the race car and how you can communicate to your crew chief and the crew and kind of get that feeling what you're looking for because you always know what that feeling is, what you're looking for, but a lot of times, as Jason can attest to, it's very difficult to get it to how you want it or get that translation over to try to get that feel.

Q. If you win next week at Homestead, you'd become just the third driver in NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series to win in their final confirmed start. What would that mean to you?
MATT KENSETH: Well, since this is the first time we've won in about 80 races or something, the odds are we're probably not going to win next week, but I hope we do. We're going to work really hard at it, and hopefully we can get one more. I love the racetrack. It's one of the best tracks in the circuit since they reconfigured it. It puts on a great show. But there's a lot that goes on next week. It's a very hard race to predict what's going to happen. But I don't see why we won't be competitive when we go down there, and hopefully we'll have a shot at one more.

Q. Is there any feeling that, man, I wish this was still last year? As a competitor you're always looking for more; is there any kind of feeling like, man, I wish this were still last year where I'd be going to the Final Four?
MATT KENSETH: Well, you always wish that you're in the four cars at Homestead to have a chance for a championship. We've never quite had that happen, but we've had a few years we certainly ran good enough to do it and just circumstances got us last year. But you have three chances every round to get in. Last year we just never quite made it. We had a shot at Martinsville, we ran spectacular at Martinsville and just the way it worked out at the end, it was just kind of a weird ending and didn't work out with an untimely caution, and the same thing here. We had the race won and got a caution when I was going into Turn 3 coming to the white. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

Q. Last year after the race you told me that the car that you had last year was the best car you ever had at Phoenix; does this car match that or is it better? Just where does it rank compared to last year?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, Phoenix is a really confusing place for me. We can go from being pretty competitive to running really bad. It's always hard for me to figure out. Jason and I were talking about that yesterday. Last fall we had a car that was going to win the race, and this spring I feel like we ran just horrible, ended up blowing a tire I think and not finishing, and this time we came back and the first lap of happy hour practice I knew we had a good car. We had the feel that I wanted and it turned good and kind of did all the things you want it to do at Phoenix. It was real, real close, it just needed some fine adjustments. It's hard place for me to figure out how to communicate to get what I want. It's just a real finicky track, real small window I feel like.

Q. Jason, is this at all as emotional for you as it is for Matt, and do you know what you're doing next year, and if you do, can you tell us?
JASON RATCLIFF: I can't tell you, but I do know. I think you'll know in a few days. Yes, it's very emotional. I thought‑‑ I told someone earlier, we left here last year, it was probably the lowest point in my career knowing that if we could have just finished the race, obviously won it, we would have been one of the four going to Homestead, and then 365 days later, come back and maybe create probably I would say for sure the highlight of my career to this point.
It's a very emotional win to be able‑‑ the last five years have been just spectacular. We've had some really good wins, some great seasons, a lot of highlight reels, but I think this one tops it for sure.

Q. Matt, in case somebody has not asked this question, in the long‑term future is team ownership an option for you?
MATT KENSETH: I really hate to say this, but I didn't understand a word you said except for Matt. Team ownership for me? No, no, no possible way, zero percent chance.

Q. Matt, I was wondering it seems the thing you've had trouble coming to terms with is the fact that you could still, as you proved today, win races and contend for a championship, but you seem to have come to peace with it of late. Did it take a while for that to happen, and was there anything in particular that made you come to kind of accept that?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I really feel like I've few years left, I really do. I feel like I can get it done on the track when we get everything right. I feel like I can win races and run for championships. But with that being said, you have to have the supporting cast. You've got to have the cars, you've got to have the team, you've got to have the sponsorship. You've got to have the manufacturer, and I got all that where I'm at right now, and there's not an opportunity to continue to race here.
I think the next ride I had a couple open cars, that's always been a very competitive team and they both got filled, as well, and I didn't get that opportunity, as well. I think once I got to there and really started weighing out what do you want and what's important to you, I think I came to terms with it and accepted it and try to embrace what's next. I'm just not‑‑ there's a lot of great cars out there. There's a lot of great teams, a lot of great people. But I've been pretty blessed my whole career to be in really good cars with really good people and cars that could win races any given week. We went through some years where we couldn't, but most years in my whole entire career I've had cars where if we did everything right we could win. I've been racing long enough where I don't want to do anything else except for that. So if I can't be in a situation that feels right and feels like I can go out and win races and contend for a championship, I'd rather not do it.

Q. Wisconsin, the upper Midwest, it's such a rich area for short track racing. Do you think just for giggles if you don't do anything here, you'll put together a late model car and have some fun?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I don't have any plans right now except for to try to go race them hard next week, try to get another win, get through the banquet and Thanksgiving time, have another baby and then kind of catch my breath and see what's going on.

Q. How much did you guys tweak on the car throughout the race?
JASON RATCLIFF: Matt said it's a secret; I can't tell you.
You know, occasionally over the last five years we'll have a Saturday practice like the one we had yesterday where Matt comes in, he never even uses the word perfect, but occasionally he'll say, man‑‑ he'll go, okay, thanks. Man, the entry is pretty good, it turns pretty good, the exit‑‑ he almost said perfect yesterday. Occasionally you'll get one of those. So I knew when we left here last night, we came in this morning, we didn't do anything really to speak of, and throughout the race, the pit box was‑‑ we were pretty much spectators. We didn't do much. The pit crew did a great job all day. We adjusted on air pressure a little bit, put a quarter round in the right rear twice. That was about it. It was a good car start to finish.

Q. I hate to pick apart your words, but when you listen to what you've said here tonight‑‑
MATT KENSETH: Well, if you hate to...

Q. You said you want to compete for championships, you said at this level. Is there a possibility that we'll see you in XFINITY or trucks or something like that competing for a championship down there?
MATT KENSETH: I would say probably not. I mean, you never say never. You never know what the future brings. We had a whole year long retirement tour for Jeff, and he started racing early.
Thanks, guys. I appreciate it. I'll miss most of you.

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