Our race winner is Matt Kenseth. He drove the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he is joined up here by team owner, Coach Job Gibbs, and crew chief, Jason Ratcliff.
This is Matt’s 28th win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his fourth win in 2013. And this makes him the winningest-driver in our series for this season, which is all-important as we head down towards the Chase.
He’s currently fifth in points, but like I said, he’s got those four wins. This is the most wins he’s had now since 2006, so that’s terrific. Obviously your first win here at Kentucky, but congratulations, Matt, just a terrific job here today, and that 20 team continues to show its championship metal. Tell us about it.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, thanks. Be a long answer to tell you about the whole race, but we had kind of a struggle on Friday, just couldn’t really get it to drive like I’d liked and we qualified 16th and that was about the best we could do.
I don’t know how he does it but Jason worked his magic and dropped the green today and we had a pretty competitive car, after three or four adjustments, I thought we had at least a second to a fifth place car, something like that.
So our car was pretty good. We moved back a couple times. We were still able to move back toward the front (indiscernible) — having obviously last call is what gave us a shot to win and put us a chance to restart as the leader, which is always important to get out front.
And having that quick caution and another time to cool our times off I think really, really helped us. We had just enough to hang on, so it was a pretty fun day.
Q: Very good, and crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, talk about this 20 team, certainly on top of their game, and I know on a racetrack like this one, has a lot of character and definition, and certainly a challenge. You had to really bring your game here today.
JASON RATCLIFF: Yeah, we did. As Matt mentioned, the car was obviously not where we needed it Friday. Made it a little better for qualifying.
Matt did a good job of bearing with us on Friday, and thankfully I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our teammates. They learned a few things in practice, the 11 and 18. We were able to take some of those things and put in our 20 car along with some of the changes that we had made in practice that we felt were positive. Everybody just kept plugging at it, working hard, and obviously Matt went out there today and did what he does best, and drove the wheels off the thing.
You know, we talked about it after the third victory; that we could be aggressive on our calls, which we’ve been aggressive on our calls all year. But today was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of that, and we did, and Matt hung on and drove his heart out and brought us home with a victory.
Q: Coach Job Gibbs, certainly this 20 team, playing like a champion, and just talk about that.
JOE GIBBS: Well, I got to the racetrack and normally I go see the drivers and I talk to Kyle and I talked to Denny, and they both felt like they were pretty good. I got to Matt and he goes, “I don’t know, man, we struggled.”
So I kind of go into it – my thought process is, hey, we may have a tough time here with the 20. And to see Jason, all the guys worked hard, kind of getting a game plan together, I thought it was a great day for us. Jason made a great call. Our pit crew, as everybody knows, is a total team sport. Kyle and Denny, those two cars, the 11, 18, chipping in, and that’s the reason why you have teammates like that, and I know Matt appreciates them.
Wound up being a great day for us. The Lord blessed us with a great day. We love coming to Kentucky. I felt bad last night, so many – that was going to be a great crowd I think last night, and still, a lot of people came back today. We appreciate it.
We love coming to Kentucky. We love racing here. I think all of our drivers, really, really enjoy the racetrack, and love it, and I love coming to this part of the country. It’s a great part of the sporting world.
Q. Before it looked like Jimmie was going to kick your butt and he ended up spinning out, and everybody at that time was thinking, oh, Jimmie is going to run away with it. Now that you’ve won at another mile-and-a-half track, it’s like, well, geez, maybe Matt is a championship contender, too. With three mile-and-a-half victories under your belt and there’s five of those tracks in the Chase, is it going to be a you versus Jimmie type thing? Do you see that developing at all?
MATT KENSETH: Well, we’ve got a lot of racing to do before we get to the Chase, first of all. I think we always strive to improve. You said at the start of the interview, 48 was class of the field all day. So we know we have to continue to get better. We are really, really good but you always have to continue to get better.
Hopefully we’ll be running how we’re running, or even get better, and you know, going into the Chase, hopefully we can give them a run for their money; that’s what the plan is.
Q. Jimmie said after the race that he didn’t thought you kept pace car speed prior to that restart there, I guess it was the next to last restart. What was your view of the restart, and knowing that he was caught for jumping a restart, are you able to kind of play games with a guy you know is kind of overly or more maybe cautious in that situation?
MATT KENSETH: No, not at all. Until you just told me the pace car speed thing, somebody mentioned in victory lane that he was upset with the restart. I have no idea what happened or what happened to him or what I possibly could have done to upset him.
When I got ready for the restart, we were on top and we were the leader, so it’s anywhere in that box we can start the race and when the pace car peeled off, I felt like I went the same pace. I didn’t check my tack when the pace car went off if we were exactly the same pace, but I think you can look through data and see I didn’t slow down.
Really at that point you try to watch the guy inside you and try to make sure he doesn’t lay back and try to get a run at you, and tried to keep him right by my door; and when I got to the box, I went. And from there, I don’t really know what happened.
I certainly didn’t feel like I did anything wrong from where I was, but you know, after dominating all day and you have a problem at the end, it’s always – I imagine it’s frustrating. We’ve been there, too.
Q. For Jason, you talked earlier about after getting three wins, maybe there’s opportunity to kind of take some chances and so forth. In other circumstances, perhaps even earlier this season, is the no-tire call something that you may have had second thoughts about?
JASON RATCLIFF: It was. When we came down pit road, I felt like as many laps as we had on our tires, that most guys would take two. But you have to think that, you know, there’s a lot of smart people in this sport and a lot of smart guys sitting on the pit box. They know how aggressive you have to be to win one of these; just so competitive.
I felt like more guys would make that call, and so, you know, I thought it was worth a shot to get out there, I felt like definitely we would be at a disadvantage. However, we did have the newest left side tires on the 48, a lot of them didn’t take less than we did the stop before.
I felt like more guys, and actually when we rolled off pit road and I saw what everybody did, I looked to the guy beside me and I’m like, I can’t believe we are the only one that did that.
But anyway, you know, it didn’t matter at that point, but obviously – and you know, when we put tires on, I felt like our restarts were a little sluggish, on low air pressures I felt like we could take off good and if we could get far enough out there, the clean air was maybe enough to even it out.
Q. Just when you lined up, regardless of what happened to Jimmie Johnson after the restart, what were your thoughts just starting with knowing that you had no new tires compared to everybody else?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, Jason said he thought more people were going to take no tires. I didn’t think anybody was going to take no tires so.
When we rolled off, I told him right away – first off, at the time, I thought in my head we had about a five percent chance of winning; if something didn’t happen to the 48. But, if we would have got two tires and came out behind the 48, unless he broke, I thought we had almost a zero percent chance of winning.
So I thought, you know, when you look at it like that, it was a great call. Circumstances helped a little bit to have the quick restarts, everybody’s got their rights, and then we had another caution, and that gave us some time to cool our tires back down and definitely got rolling faster in that second restart.
So I mean, obviously you look back right now, it’s a great call. It was the only one that gave us a chance to win the race. I didn’t think if we did what they did and restarted second, third, fourth or fifth, we really had a chance to win the race, barring a problem with the 48.
Q. When you have a car that is not in your mind the class of the field, is it more satisfying, and do you derive any different pleasure from this than on a day you dominate?
MATT KENSETH: That’s a tough question to answer. I feel like through the years, we haven’t had a lot of them where we’ve been off a little and ended up winning. Certainly it always feels good when you win.
I tell you, we’ve had a few of them this year, where you dominate and feel like you’re the best car and in position to win, and you lose those, those probably hurt as much or more than – well, not as much as this feels good (Laughter).
But it’s always fun to win, no matter how you can win. With everything being equal, I still thought we were a second-place car when we were at our best. There were times when we ran a little better than the 48 but I don’t know what he was doing up front, if he was saving fuel or what.
We still had an excellent car. The way competition is these days and how much we struggled on Friday, we had a really, really competitive car today. I thought we were second to a fifth place car most of the day, which is really good.
Q. I understand you had a little trouble getting in the care center to see Denny earlier. Any concerns beyond what you would normally feel when he took a hit like that, given the circumstances of earlier this year.
JOE GIBBS: I think our cars are so safe, and to show you, in 22 years, we’ve only had one person miss a race, and that was Denny when he had the problem earlier this year. So be quite truthful, I didn’t see it, so I was just going back, and I didn’t realize he hit that hard. And so when I got back there, he had the basic, but his complaints were, he said, “Man, I’ve got a headache, like you wouldn’t believe.” And he banged his knee on the inside.
Then we went to the care center, and right away, he said, “I started feeling better and better and better.” So they are feeling good about it. Tomorrow we are going to test at Indy. They called the doctor over there, he’s going to take a look at him before he gets in the car, but I think we are in good shape there.
Yeah, when I tried to get into the care center, and the guy stiff-armed me, I thought I was going to have a problem there. But thank goodness there was no fight because he would have been the favorite (Laughter).
Q. In that same topic, is there any part of you that if Denny doesn’t get in the Chase that would want him to just kind of shut it down for the rest of the year, or do you feel like he’s healthy?
JOE GIBBS: No, I think that would always be up to Denny if there was some reason. But I think Denny, you know, he’s had the one back issue, he’s kind of had that for a long time. I think he’s kind of used to dealing with that. He said today, “My back feels fine.”
I don’t see any reason. I think Denny wants to stay after it and we have a chance to get some wins for FedEx. And who knows what’s going to happen; we could get hot. I know he’ll be the favorite at several of these racetracks we have down the stretch over these next nine weeks. Who knows, maybe a miracle in there. And you can’t have a great comeback unless you’re behind, so we’ll just go after it and do the best we can.
I think Denny feels that way, too. He was fired up for today. I felt like he was going to get after it today. So he’s got a good attitude and we’ll keep swinging.
Q. I was just wondering how it was to see your little girls in victory lane. Probably the last time you were winning this often, they were not even born yet, and here they are in victory lane and you’re getting to share all these moments with them, and they are old enough to maybe appreciate that. What’s that like for you, and to see them, the joy on their face or whatever it may be?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it’s fun. I don’t think they totally get it. I know for sure they don’t realize how hard it is. It’s fun. I mean, whenever you can share successes or failures with your family, it’s more special. So I’m really thankful they get to travel with us.
I wish Ross could come to some more of the races and enjoy it with us, as well. But you know, it’s fun to have them here. We are real fortunate they get to travel with us. They just stay together on the weekends and we get to spend a lot of time together.
A lot of people are under the impression that, you know, when we race and we are gone all the time, you don’t get to see your family as much, but we probably spend more time together than the typical family where the dad works 9 to 5. So I’m fortunate to spend a lot of time with them, especially when they are young and growing up, it’s a lot of fun.
Q: Ross did send you a Tweet today: ”Great job by Pops today.”
MATT KENSETH: That was sweet. (Laughter).
Q. This is kind of your anniversary of your decision, and I was curious, last year, was this week a fun week for you, or was it a miserable week for you, and do you see any irony in the fact that you won here in the year after making the decision to go?
MATT KENSETH: No, I mean, it has not turned out real bad, so it’s been going pretty good so far.
You know, it was sort of an odd situation, because we couldn’t really talk about it until whenever we talked about it where they kind of said that wasn’t going to be there anymore. So it was slightly awkward until we got to make our announcement at JGR what our plans were next year and putting all that together. By then, we kind of had all our stuff together and knew what the plan was.
And to be honest with you, I was just focused on what I was doing over there. You put a little thought into this, but certainly didn’t participate in anything or spend a lot of time thinking about it, because we had so much of the season left and so many things we wanted to accomplish last year.
It really wasn’t that bad. Everybody was really cool about it. Obviously our performance at the end of the year, they were still working as hard as they can work and giving me the best stuff they can give me. I don’t have any complaints there at all.
Q. You worked at Brewco Motorsports earlier in your career, you’ve been coming here for a lot of years. What does this victory mean, and how did that experience or how has your experience at this track, how did it help today?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, I tell you the experience that helped me the most was knowing that if I used some of Dave Rogers’ notes, they were going to be right. That guy has won so many races here, and actually kicked my butt several times here. So it’s obviously good to have him as a teammate, and as you mentioned, lived close to here, lived in this area for quite some time.
This was always a special racetrack whether we were coming here testing or racing. And, well, always felt like we were close here. This was one that was at the top of my list on the Nationwide Series and always came up just a little bit short several times with different drivers, so it’s special. I told somebody earlier, all wins are special, but to win at Kentucky, for me, is the highlight of the season so far.
Q. You’ve had good runs here before today. What point did you start to feel like the car is starting to get? Better based on your experience here, did you feel it was a matter of time before the car starts to adjust, you adjust, even running during the day and that you can make a run at it?
MATT KENSETH: I mean, I’ve only raced here twice. I don’t know that any of that experience really helps me a lot.
I thought our first run, we were all right and I guess probably after the second run, we were able to move forward pretty good. I believe it was the second run, anyway. I felt pretty good about what we had. I thought we needed to get it better. But there was times where our balance was pretty good. There probably was not a lot that Jason could fix on pit road.
But we made some good adjustments and track position getting better obviously helps the car. So I don’t know, probably them couple long runs. That one time we got toward the back and had a couple good restarts and got back to fourth, I think when we restarted 12th or something like that, I knew we were pretty good. I didn’t know if we were going to be as good as Jimmie, but I knew we were probably getting up to at least run second all things being equal.
Q. Given the racing that we saw today, do you think NASCAR should consider moving this race from Saturday night to Sunday?
MATT KENSETH: You mean because track conditions are different or something?
MATT KENSETH: Oh, I don’t know. That’s the funny thing, so we get done with the race today, I have no idea what our car would have drove like last night, if it would have been different or not. I don’t really have enough time here.
The race today was really enjoyable. It was really slick, bumpy, it was a little slower than it would be at night, and in my mind that creates more passing and more side-to-side racing and more options for different lanes you can run. I enjoyed it, obviously, being during the day.
Q. That was kind of partially my question. I wanted to ask you, Jason, looking back, if you had to take a guess, is what transpired today vastly different than what we would probably have seen last night?
JASON RATCLIFF: I’m with Matt. It’s hard to say. You know, you look back at Cup cars only run here a couple years, and you look back at your notes, and you think, well, when the track does cool off, it tends to free up a little bit and the track gains grip.
I’ve been to Kentucky enough times and I know how those showers can pop up, and they can be violent and wash it out in a hurry so we can have a race on a Saturday night, so when it rains out, we’ll have Sunday to run it (laughter).
But no, I don’t know that — as the track rubbered up today, it started to free up a little bit. I was thinking maybe it’s a night thing but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just the rubber gets down in the racetrack and it starts freeing up – Matt’s saying we are running out of time here.
Yeah, definitely the track was going to free up about 9:15, we know that, and (laughter) look at there. God thought that was funny, too. He turned the microphones back on.
Again, we have notes as far as what the track is going to do at night, and then we have a few notes on what it’s going to do when it’s green during the day, no rubber on it. But I’m with Matt, I don’t know that we would have seen much as far as how the track changed. I don’t know that it would have been much different last night.
Q. You mentioned in your opening statement about needing to improve; what areas do you need to improve in?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I guess what I mean by that is you always have to improve, and I feel like they do a great job of doing that at JGR.
So just in general, I mean, from the start of the year, I’ll wait till the last race and I think you always have to improve, and you see the guys that win races on a regular basis, they are always doing that.
So really, no area in particular. I think you’re always working to try to get the cars better and try to get the engines better. You’re always trying to get it better no matter how you’re running and I guess that was more toward speaking of the Chase and what happens two months from now or whenever it starts. A lot of things can change between now and then.
You look at the 48, for instance, all the Hendrick cars, about a month ago, five races ago, something like that, they obviously hit on something and they went from being a really strong car to a Top-5 contender every week to being dominant every week since Pocono it seems like.
Just that, I mean, just got to keep working all the time and keep trying to get better. Just because you’re great today doesn’t mean you’ll be great a month from now. You know, you are always trying to improve.