Matt, congratulations. Very exciting race here tonight at Bristol, held off Kasey Kahne there at the end and put on a great show for the fans. Talk about this win. This is a big win for you obviously as we get ready to set the Chase field.
MATT KENSETH: It’s a huge win for us. The Bristol night race is one of the biggest races of the year. It’s one of the most fun races to win. It’s been a while since we won one. Man, it was a dramatic finish. I really put Jason in a box by speeding on pit road so we had to do a strategy different, because of that my car got so tight and could barely hang on there at the end. I’m glad we were able to pull it out. If we wouldn’t have, it would have been totally my fault, so I was glad we were able to come back from that. I had a great engine and had just enough speed to hang on.
Q: Jason, just talk about some of the things that you had to overcome here tonight, obviously that pit road speeding penalty didn’t put you in a great spot, but Matt had a great car and y’all did a great job getting it ready, but talk about how you overcame that.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, we felt like we left something here in the spring. We felt like we had a good car here. You never know how these things are going to turn out, but we were looking forward to coming back to Bristol and getting another opportunity to do that. We weren’t as good as we hoped we would be when we unloaded or hit the track on Friday, but we made a lot of changes. Guys did a lot of good adjustments on the car. Car had some speed tonight as Matt mentioned. He said he put me in a box. He put himself in a box and dug his way right out of it. He did a good job on 200-plus-lap right-side tires. I told him we got our money’s worth out of everything. His air-conditioner quit so we got the money’s worth out of that one, money’s worth out of the tires, maybe half a gallon left of fuel there at the end. Everything worked out for us right to the end, and it was the same old Bristol, dramatic finish right at the end.
Q: J.D., if we set the Chase field tonight Matt would be the No. 1 seed, but talk about how this win has to boost the momentum for the 20. Certainly as you look at your other cars, certainly the 18 is on the cusp of clinching a berth and then the 11 was sitting on the pole this weekend, but talk about this victory for the 20.
J.D. GIBBS: It’s a huge deal for Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole. It meant a lot, and the best part, Matt just reminded me, we just saved $700 not putting right-side tires on, so that was a good money saver.
JASON RATCLIFF: I think that’s being conservative.
J.D. GIBBS: I’m that Gibbs that actually cares about money. (Laughter.)
MATT KENSETH: I’ll attest to that. (Laughter.)
Q. Matt, considering Kasey’s feelings towards the Joe Gibbs Racing organization but his reputation as a clean racer, how did you think that last 12 or so laps would go? Did you think he would try to pass you cleanly or were you worried about what he might do if he got to you?
MATT KENSETH: Well, first of all, I only drive the 20 so I am only responsible for what happens with that. But I knew it was going to be a hard race. We had a pretty good lead, and our car was getting real tight and we ran down I think the 43 and the 17. I wasn’t fast enough to go past him. If I would have went underneath him, Kasey would have went underneath me and won the race so I had to patiently wait and thankfully they were really courteous and moved out of the way, moved down and I was able to get around them.
And then we were just going really slow.
To answer your question I didn’t know what would happen. The interesting thing about this track is there is only one really fast groove and I knew I couldn’t let him outside of me, so honestly it was all about the windshield. I never even looked back. The thing is you can’t race any different. If someone decides to run into the back of you or whatever, it’s going to happen. There wasn’t really anything I could do differently to guard against anything or change my line or take his away because there was only one lane where my car ran good, so I just really had to look out the windshield and try to hit the marks the best I could. The only time I changed it up was he almost cleared me into 3 one time and I had to drive in really, really hard to make sure he couldn’t get up in front of me and that’s when kind of had that rubbing together off of 4. There wasn’t a lot of extra room there, so that was – it was an intense race. Kasey has got a great reputation. He’s a really hard racer, really talented, and he’s also a really fair racer, as well. I was expecting it to be about like it was, but I really thought he was going to pass me. I thought he had a good enough car to get around me there and we had just enough to hang on.
Q. It went on for 12 or so laps –
MATT KENSETH: Felt like 112. Yeah, when he had that run off of 2 and I was only to his door going into 3 and I knew he was going to drive in there hard and try to do a dirt track slide job and get up in front of me, if he would’ve cleared me there, it was lights out, done. And I just drove in really hard and the car stuck just enough to scrape up through there and be able to hold him off. But man, he would just eat me up through the middle of the corner and get under me real easy. I was hoping, but the harder I tried I thought the slower I was going. My car just kept getting tighter. When he got there with about eight to go, I knew we had our work cut out for us for sure.
Q. Matt, if the situation were reversed and you were in second, do you think you would have moved him out of the way?
MATT KENSETH: No, I think I would have raced him exactly the same. Man, I feel like you go out and race as hard as I can. I think every situation is different. I feel like I’ve always raced pretty much the same. I’ve made some dumb mistakes and probably not some smart decisions throughout your career. That’s part of it. But I’ve been racing for a long time and I feel like if you race people a certain way, 95 percent or more you get that same respect back. So I mean, I think it’s not about one week or two weeks or one thing. I think it’s probably more about however long he’s been in the series and our history racing together. We’ve raced each other hard a lot of times, but I feel like we’ve always been fair with each other.
Q. Matt, five wins now. When you start with a brand new race team, is this about all you can ask for at this point? You’ve clinched a spot in the Chase, you at this point have more bonus points than anybody else, two races left before the final cut. When you move over to a new team, is this the best just about you can expect?
MATT KENSETH: Well, man, it’s what we all work for and what we hoped for and what I dreamed about coming over there, but certainly I think if you look at the beginning of the season I think it was better than I ever could have dreamed of. We were qualifying up front every week, we were leading tons of laps in position to win races. We’ve been very fortunate, won some races, we also lost some. I thought we were in position to win for whatever so it’s been, honestly, sitting here in August it feels like the year has been two years long with all the different things we’ve had happen to our race team, just all kinds of different things.
The last month and a half, two months has been a little bit more of a, I hate to say reality check because I hope this is reality all the time, but we’ve struggled just a little bit more, haven’t quite had the speed. It’s been a little bit more of a struggle, so it was really, really encouraging this weekend to get to the track, and all of our cars were really fast before qualifying. I know Kyle had a problem qualifying but he had a real good car and then had to speed to hang on there.
So that was encouraging, and it is a very unique racetrack, but hopefully we can see that the next two weeks or next 12 weeks when it really counts and just race him down hard the stretch.
Q. It used to be the bump-and-run was acceptable; if you bumped the guy, as long as he didn’t go from first to 30th, Jeff Gordon a couple times and Rusty Wallace. Would you have considered it less than clean or dirty driving if say somebody like Kasey had bumped you back to second place in the last lap? Is that no longer acceptable, or would it have been acceptable, again, as long as you didn’t wreck?
MATT KENSETH: Well, like I say, I think every situation is different. First of all, the track the way it’s laid out, somebody else can probably figure it out, I’m not smart enough to do it, I’m not sure how you do it because we’re all running a foot off the fence, so you knock that guy loose, well, he’s going to hit the fence, well, you’re right behind him a foot off the fence; where are you going to go? So I’m not smart enough to figure out probably how to do it. I would try to do it the right way and hope it turns out in your favor.
I saw a lot of hard racing tonight. I saw a couple guys – one of the cars went in and slid and it wasn’t quite clear, it made him mad so he went back underneath him and did the same thing to him the next corner or something. That kind of staff has been happening forever, and I’m certain you’ve seen through the years somebody get moved out of the way one corner and not lose too much momentum and move him back out of the way to get him.
But I think that was as hard as we could both race without wrecking.
Q. Kind of to follow up on Mark’s question, you know, obviously Kasey probably feels like he owes you. He’s tweeted about it, that he owes the JGR guys and that you’ve raced him hard this year and things like that, and so he had the chance. If he had done it and he had moved you out of the way or wrecked you or whatever, would you have considered that to be like, you know what, I had one coming, or that was a fair thing in that specific situation because he owed you, or is that still not part of the code?
MATT KENSETH: Well, look, I think this whole thing is getting blown way out of proportion. I’ve never intentionally wrecked Kasey. The 9 car had a problem at Watkins Glen. I didn’t know the 5 was outside me. The 9 had a problem going up the esses, so I jumped in the back of him and swapped lanes because he slowed way up and had a flat tire because spun out the next thing, and it collected Kasey and Dale Jr. in a wreck. Sure, you can say it’s my fault. Yeah, was it a mistake? Yeah, it was a mistake, but it’s not like Kasey and I have this big history together of knocking each other away and wrecking each other and fighting. I’ve never had a problem with Kasey ever in the eight or nine years, however long he’s been here, and I don’t think he’s ever had a problem with me.
So I think it’s getting a little bit blown out of proportion. But I will say that the only car you can drive is your own, and I looked out the windshield and I raced as hard as I could race pretty much all night, and if somebody decides to run into you or to do something to you, there’s not really a lot you’re going to do about it. There’s no sense really getting distracted on that and slowing down. I just looked out the windshield and tried to make the best laps I could make.
Q. Can you just talk about the kind of momentum that this win gives you this close to the Chase, and what’s your strategy for the 10 races once you get in there?
MATT KENSETH: Well, Jason would be the strategy guy. I’m not always a huge believer in momentum as far as just looking at paper and looking at finishes, but I am a believer in momentum as far as performance, and I think this weekend was huge for us. Even if we would have ran second and got beat at the end, I think it would have been still a really – at least for me it would have been a very encouraging weekend, it would have been a shot in our arm, like man, we had all our speed back. We led some laps. We haven’t really led multiple laps since Kentucky really. So the whole weekend for me was really encouraging from a team standpoint.
Hopefully that gives you momentum. The next 12 weeks are the most important 12 weeks of the season, so I feel like approach every race the same, go out with the idea of trying to qualify the best you can and prepare like you’re going to go try to win the race.
Q. J.D., Kyle had the problem early, came back, got a decent finish out of the night. Did you talk at all to him? Do you know what happened there early in the race, and what do you think of how the race turned out for the 18?
J.D. GIBBS: I didn’t. I saw him afterwards and just talked to him briefly, but obviously he was frustrated, but my fear is it would have been a lot worse. Kind of gathered it up, came back and had a respectable finish, so I was proud of those guys, what he and Dave Rogers did tonight.