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January 15, 2010

Matt Kenseth


DENISE MALOOF: Matt Kenseth joins us, our reining Daytona 500 champion. New sponsor, No. 17 Crown Royal Ford. We'll have to get used to that, although you're familiar with them as a sponsor. You had a fun event yesterday, a full day, I know, doing a media tour for the 500. Tell us a little bit about that.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, we had a full couple days. I had a good time. We got to go to Busch Gardens yesterday, which I've never been to. I did a little tug-of-war with a tiger, and of course I won and that tiger will never be the same. Got to go to the hockey game last night and just kind of been hanging out talking about the race.

Q. Two-parter, your reaction to the bulletin that went out today that they're going to phase the spoiler back in.
MATT KENSETH: I think it'll be cool. I mean, I'm all for mixing things up and trying something, especially the way we're running at the end of the year. Whenever they change something and you're not running great, it's kind of a good thing because you hope to get back on top of it and you hope you work out different set ups and can try some different things. I'm kind of looking forward to it. I don't know what it'll change. I don't know if any of us do until we really run it. I assume it's because of the wing this car has always been so forgiving. There's never really been a penalty for making a mistake, and there's never really been a reward for keeping it off the wall all day, because you can slam them into the wall so hard and they still run the same speed. You can get them sideways 45 degrees and almost anybody can catch them. They're so forgiving with that wing and everything. I think this is going to get it back to being a little more like what we had before, maybe a little less forgiving and make qualifying a little bit more exciting, where some people might get over the edge and not be able to catch it type of thing. I don't know what it'll do, but I think it'll make it a little bit more difficult.

Q. The Daytona 500 has produced a lot of very unique endings, yours certainly would be classified as a unique ending. Why does this race seem to lend itself to unusual finishes and unlikely winners, and at the same time it was such a --
MATT KENSETH: I get it, an unlikely winner? I got that little dig. I caught it. (Laughter.)

Q. I mean --
MATT KENSETH: I'm just kidding. Go ahead. I got up way too early this morning, and I'm just pretty much full of it right now. Go ahead. I'm just joking.

Q. Rusty Wallace has never won it, and it took Earnhardt almost 20 years to win it. It's a hard race for some, and for other people they make a pass and it starts raining and they win.
MATT KENSETH: At least it was under green, right?

Q. I'm trying to get myself out of this.
MATT KENSETH: You're good.
I know what you're saying. I agree with you. I remember for years and years, as soon as the stuff became nationally televised I remember basically watching the Daytona 500 at home as a kid in Wisconsin. It was always fun because I always went snowmobiling after the race. It seemed like two different worlds from Wisconsin to Florida. But anyway, I remember Earnhardt and hitting the burn and getting a flat tire, and I remember all that stuff, and I totally know what you're talking about.
I think this race is a little bit unique because it's a restrictor plate race because it's kind of turned into a half restrictor plate race, a half downforce handling race, so some cars you can give up a little bit of speed and handle good at the end of the run and that kind of mixes up the order, and you'll find some cars faster in the beginning of the run, some faster at the end of the run. There's a lot of that, and all winter long everybody prepares to try to run and try to win the Daytona 500. You're down here for a week and a half practicing. There's just a lot that goes into this race. It's just a different race from any other race we do all year with all the prep time and lead time and practice and preliminary races and all that kind of stuff. I think for that reason every once in a while you get different winners and different things happening at the end.

Q. You brought it up, I wouldn't have gone there, but the way you ran a lot of the season, can you talk about what you've done to try to reverse that, and considering you won the first two races of the season, any optimism going back to Daytona obviously and California?
MATT KENSETH: Well, you know me, if there's one thing I am it's optimistic. (Laughter).
I haven't really done a lot personally. We've made a couple small changes on the team. Not a lot, but we changed a couple people around a little bit, moved some things around a little bit. Really when I sit down and look at it at the end of the year, I looked at it hard, do we need to change something on our team, is it leadership, is it me, is it -- what is it? What do we need to mix up to make it better.
But then I really look at it as an organization, and I look at it, okay, in 2008 Carl won nine races, in 2009 he won zero. Greg won some races this year. I started looking at it, you know, if I'm really objective about it, we probably ran as good as anybody in the organization overall even though we didn't make the Chase. Flat tire here, engine there, gas mileage there, we would have made it like Carl and Greg did and would have had a couple of wins. Really when I looked at it, I felt pretty good about my personnel and their performance. Me and Drew have been you together for a year, and I think that helps. The relationship grows over the year. He's worked with Chip for a year. We're just getting comfortable with each other and we understanding each other a lot better than we did at this time last year or mid-season last year or even the end of the season last year.
I feel pretty good about that, and I think really what we had to do was get our cars faster. When we show up at the track the hardest thing for us is as a group we'd all unload relatively slow. We'd all unload toward the bottom of the sheet, the right side of the sheet, and we'd be off. With these cars, and the way the rules are, it's very difficult to take something that comes off the trailer, a 30th place car on speed and turn it into a winner. It's just not going to happen, or if it does, it's not going to happen very often. That's what we've worked on, Drew and Chip and the engineering department, everybody there has been working really hard on just getting our cars faster, just refining our cars, figuring out how to make as much downforce as we can within the rules, how to make the cars as light as we can, how to make the motors run the best, just going through everything on our equipment top to bottom and hope that we can get it better. I think they've made some improvements. I don't know how much. I don't know if we've made enough improvements to go win right away. We've still go to, I think, work on our setups and work on other things that we can control at the track as hard as we can, but I feel like we've made some improvements.

Q. Obviously with sponsors coming and going in this sport and everything, but yours stick around for a long time. How strange is it going to be to go into the garage area with a new uniform and new colors on the car?
MATT KENSETH: Well, it's really different, and I'm very fortunate and blessed to have had the sponsors I've had for as long as I've had them.
I think the 17 with DeWalt, with them as a sponsor, me driving, I think was the second longest sponsor/driver team relationship in the garage next to Jeff and DuPont. That was something I've always been proud of. I was trying to work to make that work the best we could and do all that. It's a different situation I've been in since whenever they announced it, August or whatever. It's definitely a lot different. I don't think we have any of the sponsors from our cars returning from last year. So it's kind of like starting over. But I am excited that Crown picked us up, and I worked with the them guys with the Smirnoff Ice brand when they were with us in '03 and '04 on our DeWalt cars. I know them guys and I have a little bit of comfort level there, and I'm happy that we have something on the car. But it's definitely a feeling than we've had the last few years. It's something after a while you try to be careful not to, but you almost take it for granted. You're like, these guys have always been there, always going to be there, there's not going to be a change, and you kind of get in a comfort zone. So it's a little different.

Q. I've got two unrelated questions. First of all, your teammate David Ragan, after challenging to make the Chase two years ago, last year had a pretty disappointing season. What's your sense of his confidence level at this point? And what advice would you give him as he prepares for this year?
MATT KENSETH: I honestly don't really have a lot of idea what his confidence level is, to be honest with you. That's something you'd probably have to ask him. I haven't really spent a lot of time talking to him about it. It's kind of like I touched on a little while ago. I think as an organization, we didn't run as good as anybody hoped we would, any of the five teams really. I think that there was a lot of -- I can't say I watched every one of David's races and know all of his results or anything, but some of the results I've seen that he didn't get were certainly things that weren't necessarily maybe his doing or maybe got caught up in a wreck or had problems. I don't think where he finished in points really reflects how he ran. None of us ran as good as we did the year before. I know that Robby and Jack have worked really hard this winter to get him the best of everything as far as personnel and getting him everything that he can possibly get to succeed.
You know, I notice that every time we go to the shop that he's getting everything and then some.

Q. Second, just the move from five teams to four, is that going to change the dynamic at the shop at all? Have you noticed a difference in terms of resources, that sort of thing?
MATT KENSETH: No, not really. I mean, with the Petty merger and all that stuff, I'm not sure but I think we kind of added teams as far as the engineering department and everybody trying to work together and all that kind of stuff. At this point to me it doesn't really feel smaller. There's a little less people in our building because we had to take a team out of our building and get rid of that. So there's a little bit more room to move around there and they changed some things around building wise, but other than that, I don't think it's going to have a real big effect. I'll miss having Jaime around. He was a great teammate and a great friend, but I don't think it'll really change the team part of it much.

Q. Do you expect to go testing with the spoiler even though they haven't really said exactly what the size and shape of it will be? Do you think you'll just do the one NASCAR test and go with it?
MATT KENSETH: I'm a little bit behind on all this deal, but I think NASCAR is having a test, is that right, with all of us? I'm sure we'll all do that test. Other than that, I don't know whether dimensions are out, I don't know if they've said what it'll be. I don't know that we know anything. I don't think you go test anything until you know what the rules are and the dimensions.
Even once all that is said, I don't know where we could go test. I don't know where we could go that would be effective with the testing rules. We can't really get to very many tracks, so I'm not really sure.

Q. The first one you may have touched on this, but Jeff Smith was saying that sponsorship looks good for the other half of this year. Have you heard anything on that front for your car?
MATT KENSETH: It sounds like things are progressing nicely and they should know something in a couple days is what he told me a couple days ago. I'm hoping so. He seemed pretty confident about it.

Q. And also, it seemed like last year with the Montoya and even the 48 a little bit, although they've done it in the past. It seems like there was maybe a shift in Chase strategy where it used to be worry about the final ten, then it was worry about the final ten going into the Chase, and now last year it almost seems as if it evolved into worry about like the first 26 being good enough to get to the Chase and then kind of step up your game. I know you guys tailed off a little bit after that early part. Is there going to be a shift this year, do you think, this year in the way teams approach getting themselves ready for the Chase based on how the 42, the 48 did year last?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I'm not familiar with the 42, and if I had to guess, the 48 tried to win every week. I don't know that they lay back and then try to run better in the Chase. Maybe they do. I don't know what the strategy would be there. I think that you want to put your best foot forward every week.
I think with an extra ten points going into the Chase that's a lot if you're in a position to win a few extra races. I think that you run as hard as you can run every week, and there's only one winner and 42 guys that aren't and you still want to finish as high as you can if you can't win, but I think the strategy is the same. I think for 36 weeks you go and put your best foot forward, run as fast as you can possibly run. Do everything you can to try to win the race, and if not, get to the highest finish you can.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Matt.

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