Teleconference: Matt Kenseth

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Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion for Roush Racing, was this week's guest on the NASCAR Teleconference as he prepares for this Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway - Race 9 of 10 in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."

Q: What's your outlook for your team going into Phoenix?

MATT KENSETH: Not as good as it was a few weeks ago I guess. You know, we're going to go there and try to bring our best stuff and hopefully run better than we have the last few weeks. So we're just going to go there and put forth our best effort and see how it turns out. Certainly we have not ran up to our standards the last few weeks. For whatever reason, we haven't been performing the way we need to so we're just going to go there and hopefully get back on track. We're still close to Jimmie but we're certainly not running in the league that he's running in. So hopefully we can get back to that.

Q: Matt, obviously with Jimmie having the momentum of the Chase and Tony having outside the Chase momentum, the way y'all have been running during the Chase, A, is it possible to sort of pull some momentum out of a hat; and B, how do you go about that, how can you pull out of a hat getting a team running strong all of a sudden for these last two races?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I think the team has been doing a pretty good job. I still think I've got one of the best teams in the garage. We just haven't been putting it together lately. We haven't been, you know – it all starts with the cars not running the way they need to run. We start with our cars not running good, and that leads to mistakes by me and not as good of a performance by everybody.

I don't think we're going to find a magic pill that's going to take us from, you know, we ran 30th, really, all week last week and just finished better. But really those were the times we ran was equivalent to a 30th place car. So I don't really feel like we're going to find the magic and going like that to running like Jimmie is. But we're still close in points and anything can happen. You know, you don't want to hope somebody has bad luck or hope to win it like that or anything, but you know, honestly we're not, you know, performing anywhere in the league that they are right now for whatever reason, for most of the year we have. Since Kansas for whatever reason we've been off and haven't been able to get that back. Going to Phoenix is a different track, it's a lot different than other tracks and we've ran pretty well there in the past and hopefully we can go there and get it on track.

Q: If you can pull it out like this, like you say, hating to win it like this, do you look back, like the year before you won the championship, you had the most wins of anybody in the league, and didn't win the championship, the next year, you get all of the criticism and – not criticism but people saying, well, NASCAR changed because of Matt Kenseth's championship battle, and now, to the possibility of winning it mediocre, are you somewhat – are you sometimes saying to yourself, how can you win this thing without getting any complaints about winning it?

MATT KENSETH: Somebody is going to find a way to pick things apart. I used to worry about what everyone thinks but to be honest with you, I don't really care. I don't really care what anybody says about it. I know that, you know, I drive to the airport every week and hoping that I give it 100% and give everybody the best job that I can do. If I'm satisfied with how I performed, the effort we forth, that's really all I can ask for.

A lot of the people don't necessarily, you know, know everything that goes into it, and I think we've had as strong a year – probably a stronger year this year than we've ever had before. The last few weeks haven't been as good, but we won four races; I think we led up until the last two weeks, Tony is probably past that, but I think we've led the most laps all year. And we've been in contention right down towards the end and let them get away from us.

So I think that we've ran as good as any team out there overall if you look at the whole entire season. It's just when we needed to be better, and when it really counts, right now, we just haven't been doing it.

Q: Can you explain the difference between racing to try win that day's race, between trying to win a championship? And as a driver who has a burning desire to win the trophy every Sunday, is that frustrating?

MATT KENSETH: It's really the same. I know we have to make stories out of it all and everything, but it's really the same. I don't know about the race this weekend with Jimmie and Tony, I don't really see that. From what I saw all day, Tony had by far the best car. Racing for wins is how you race for a championship. I mean it pays the most points to win the race and it pays the most points to lead laps; that's how you race to win a championship.

In our case last weekend we had a 25th or 30th place car. Well, I don't care who is driving that thing; you're not going to have a chance to get up front and win with it. You're just going to do the best you can. I drove over my head all day, and raced as hard as I could, and that's just all we could do. That's actually better than what I thought we were going to do. You're only as good as what your equipment is, and I think you carry whatever you have that day to get the very best finish that you can get.

Certainly the only time I think that could ever change is maybe when you get to the last race, you know, like Tony last year, wherever he had to finish to win the thing is about where he was running, and maybe you're a little extra careful in doing what you need to do. Up until that, I think you want to make your pile of points as big as you can.

Q: How do you actually value winning a race, and if you won, say, 12 races to finish second in the championship to the guy that won the title and won maybe one or two races, is that still a successful season? How do you actually rank a win or wins versus winning a title?

MATT KENSETH: Every year your goal I think depending on the situation that you're in, obviously it's not a realistic goal for every team to have to win the championship. But really I think, you know, since we won a championship, our goal every year is to try to win another championship. It's really hard to win these races and be up leading laps and putting yourself in contention. Every week, the season is so long, every week you show up to try to win. If you can do that, you're going to collect the most points and that goes towards the goal of winning the championship. It all starts with fast cars. It's a huge accomplishment to win any race and it feels great, but certainly the ultimate prize is the championship.

Q: As a follow up to what was just asked of you, do you think most of the Chase is kind of a strategy of maybe not trying to win all the time necessarily, but just making the effort just to stay ahead of your Chase rivals, and how does that change your driving strategy if you just want to stay ahead of the guys in the Chase?

MATT KENSETH: No, it's not like that at all. Like I said, until you get down to the last race, the way we ran all year with some people having problems and then we went to Dover, pretty close to wining stuff – you know, I'm greedy, I want to get as many points as I can, and that's by winning. You know, if you get down to the last race, that might change, or if you have a 200 point lead with two races to go that might change a little bit. You might be a little more conservative in your engine tune up and your gear and stuff like that.

You know, you're trying to pile up as many points as you can get. You don't know, you could be a hundred points ahead and go to Homestead and break an engine and lose the championship. I mean, you don't know what's going to happen. So I think you want to have as big of a lead as you can if you're in that situation. So I think you're always out there racing for wins and leading for laps and trying to finish as high as you can.

Q: Next year, with the possibility of making some tweaks in the Chase format, would you like to see more points for winning a race?

MATT KENSETH: It doesn't really matter to me. It just really, honestly doesn't matter to me. It could pay, you know – I think we ran, I can't remember, I think we ran second at Indy this year, just use that as an example. It could have paid a 100,000 points to win that race. So every time that we didn't win this year, it didn't matter. You know, we did the very best we could and I drove as hard as I could to win that race. And there is no bonus, you know, monetary or points wise or anything that could have took me to win more races this year. We did the best job we could every single week and we try as hard as we could every single week to win races. I don't think it's going to change any of the winners. It might change the points standings, but it's not going to change who is going to win the race that day.

Q: Tony has said that he's really enjoying this. Naturally he'd rather be in the Chase, but since he isn't, he's more relaxed and there's more pressure on him. Do you envy him; I know you're going for the championship yourself, but it must be a nice way to race; right?

MATT KENSETH: You talking about Tony Stewart?

Q: Yeah.

MATT KENSETH: I mean, I envy the way he's running right now. I think that – I'm sure, you know, it's easy to talk about that, having fun and no pressure when you're winning a lot of races. But I'm sure no matter that what they say, they wish they were in the race, because the way they have ran since it started, they would be leading by a bunch probably, I think. You certainly want to go in the Chase, and you certainly want to have cars like he's had the past couple of weeks. It's always fun when you have cars like that, and when you're winning races like that, that's about as fun as it gets.

Q: I wanted to ask you another question about this points structure. Actually I don't know if you know this, but if you kept using the old system, so far in this thing, that you would actually be ahead of Jimmie by 35 points. But more interesting, that you two guys would be way ahead of everybody else; that nobody else would have a chance to catch you. Does it matter what system you're running under?

MATT KENSETH: Not really. I think if you look, I think if you look at the year as a whole, from Daytona all the way until right now, I think that the 48 and us have probably ran the best out of the teams except for the 20 as of late. But if you look at the whole year and you don't just look at the last three weeks, I think that, you know, we've probably ran the best other than the 48, so I think they should be first and second. I think it's interesting that we are only 17 points ahead and would only be 34 points apart if it was a season long deal, so that's pretty interesting. So really the Chase isn't laid out that much different than the old system. It's 10 races instead of 36, but the system is basically the same.

Q: How is the crew hanging in there through these tough few weeks, and do you or Robby ever have to give them a pep talk, or have you guys been together so long that it's pretty much business as usual in that regard?

MATT KENSETH: I wouldn't say a pep talk would be the right way. I think Robby has more been there raising hell and figuring out why cars are not running the way they need to run. I think they are pretty good. Most of us have been together for a long time, and they do a great job as far as stuff not falling off and they do a good job on pit road and keeping us in these things and you know, battling through no matter how we're running. These guys have been around for a while and they understand it's not – there's always ups and downs, and we've had a lot of ups this season, and right now we're having a few downs at a bad time. So if anything, I think he's there trying to, you know, figure out what we are doing wrong and what we can do to get back on track.

Q: As tough as Sunday was, how did you – does it still provide a bit of a lift to still, despite everything, end up 12th?

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, until Carl ran me over, I was a little bit in shock. We came in and got two tires there at the end and made it through my speeding penalty and stalls in pits and things trying to get us back in it, trying to finish 7th or 8th, probably tied in points, somewhere in that range, and still getting spun out there and staying on the track with a banged up car and finishing 12th was certainly better than we ran. It's, you know, nothing short of a miracle. We ran almost as bad as we did at Kansas, and still got a halfway decent finish out of there.

You know, we're lucky to be where we're at, but we're not dumb enough to think that we are running good enough to win the championship the way we have done it. We've only got two weeks to get the thing turned around, and, you know, I know we're capable of running with the 48 and them guys, and they have had four great weeks in a row. Maybe if they have a little bit of an off week, we can get back to running how we did earlier in the year and we might still have a shot at it.

Q: Can you compare the feeling now to when you won the Championship?

MATT KENSETH: Totally different feeling to have won it. Right now we're – I wouldn't say we're down, but we're not up either. We're kind of wondering what's going on because the whole season, you know, kind of felt like a championship season. You know, we're contending for wins and we're getting good finishes throughout most of the season. Just things were really going right, and now they are not going quite as right and we still have lots of work to do. And it feels good because we are still in contention, but it don't feel good because we are not running good enough to pull it off.

We're still working right now. Last year or in 2003 we were kind of done, we had one race to go and we had the championship won which was a huge burden off it, that season long points deal. Even though we had a pretty big lead, was a very, very, very stressful season.

Q: How much pressure are you feeling right now?

MATT KENSETH: I'm really not feeling any to be honest with you. I've been probably more relaxed through the Chase and through the last ten, 15 weeks than I can ever remember being in a long, long time. So kind of did some different things to kind of help myself manage my time and what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to, and to kind of concentrate as hard as you can and thinking about the cars and doing all of that stuff and not getting caught up in what everybody is saying and where exactly you are in the points, and just going every week and just running as hard as we can and just going home and try to figure out how to make it better.

Q: What do you attribute being more relaxed to? You went – fishing in the Bahamas recently, right?

MATT KENSETH: I went down there with some friends. I had that planned a long time ago. That's been planned for three months. It's just making a lot of time here and there. I do a lot of my appearances and commitments in my time that I tried to take care of earlier in the year and leave myself a little about the of time here or there and kind of hang out and maybe do some other things. So that, you know, it's been – it's been a fun year. I mean, that's the biggest difference, Daytona 500, winning the second week of the year, it's been a fun year. The guys have been getting along good, it's been a renewed enthusiasm about our team for whatever reason this year. It's been a fun group to be around. They have all been, you know, in a good mood all year which makes a big difference. And they have all been fired up and, you know, wanting to work and not complaining about too many hours and wanting to get the job done no matter what it took, and that's been fun to be around that.

Q: Is there a chance after these last two races, of you losing confidence in the team, and the team losing confidence in itself?

MATT KENSETH: No. I don't think so. I mean, Robby does a really good job of keeping them guys on the same page and keeping them guys kind of all stuck together and operating as a unit and not as individuals.

So I'm not really worried about that. We just need to figure out what we're doing wrong, first of all, with the cars and why we are not running good. We are missing something somewhere or doing something different or got something wrong, and we just can't really seem to figure out what that is. So I don't think anybody is losing confidence in that. I think if we show up at Phoenix and we have a competitive car, I think that they will still operate like a championship team, and I think if we don't, we'll probably be down a little bit why we can't get the cars any better, but certainly on race day we'll battle through and work on it as hard as we can.

Q: You said this past week you had a 25th place car.

MATT KENSETH: I said I had a 30th place car.

Q: How do you handle that, and how does the team handle that, and leading up to this race, knowing what you had to start with last week?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, that's a tough question to answer. In Atlanta, honestly the whole time through practice we ran about how we ran last week at Texas. And Saturday night, Chip and Robby and them guys they came over and talked to me Sunday morning and changed a bunch of stuff and actually had a pretty good car, had probably a top four or five car and finished fourth with it and it was pretty good. So we really felt like we found some things we were missing and brought all the same stuff to Texas and ran terrible. So we're just a little confused and try to get on top of that.

Q: If you could be a cartoon character, who would you be and why?

MATT KENSETH: I don't know. That's a tough question to ask me. That's the last thing I'm thinking about. I don't have any idea. I haven't watched cartoons for 20 years, so I'm not really sure.

Q: And do you have the robot with the tuxedo ready in case you win the championship?

MATT KENSETH: The robot is sitting in my fan club headquarters in Cambridge, Wisconsin, but still wearing that driver suit. So I don't know, the way I ran the last few weeks ago, maybe he can do better than me.

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