This is Matt’s 25th win in a Sprint Cup Series career. This is Toyota’s 50th Sprint Cup Series victory. Again, Toyota wins its 50th Sprint Cup Series victory, and congratulations to them.
Today is also Matt’s 41st birthday, and –
MATT KENSETH: Come on, man, we used to be friends.
Q: We are. He joins only two other drivers in Sprint Cup Series history that have won on their birthday, and one of them is the in the Hall of Fame, Cale Yarborough, he did it twice. The other one is a guy that you all know pretty well, Kyle Bushh. He did it once. Matt becomes the third driver in Sprint Cup history to win on his birthday. That’s pretty cool. Congratulations, Matt. New team, right out of the box, it’s got to feel really, really good to get this win here today.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, for sure. I’m pretty proud to be driving this car. I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to come in here and perform. I felt like coming over here and getting to know Jason, and really everybody in the shop and the organization and everything, you know, just it’s a great feeling about the season. We’re only three weeks in, but man, all three races we had a car, if everything would have went right, that we could have won, and it feels pretty awesome to have this win here.
Q. Jason, certainly having Matt now over with you guys, the championship caliber driver that he is, what’s it been like so far working with him and then getting this win here today?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, three weeks in, I mean, I knew this day would come, but to do it just in our third race is really special obviously. The hard work that these guys have put in over the winter, we’ve just got a great group here, and we’ve got Matt and we’re going to win a lot of races, I think. He’ll probably get mad at me for saying that because he doesn’t like that.
But anyway, like I said, I knew that we would get to victory lane at some point, and to do it this early in the season is great, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
Q: And Coach Joe Gibbs, certainly this has got to be one of the reasons you hired Matt Kenseth, because he’s a winner, he knows how to wheel a race car and brings a professionalism over there to your group, and congratulations on this win. It’s got to be big, too, Toyota’s 50th career win. That’s a benchmark. I believe you’re up to 101 now, if I’m not mistaken I heard in the Sprint Cup Series. Congratulations. Just talk about today’s victory.
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think lots of times a victory, the thrill of it, depends on kind of what happens leading up to it. We’ve had a tough couple of weeks, as everybody knows, and so I really appreciate our partner Toyota. In tough times, everybody kind of bands together around our place, and we start fighting and we worked our way out of some tough things. I felt like today we had three good cars, two of them were caught speeding on pit road. I think Denny got caught so late it was hard for him to get back on sync.
But really proud. Obviously Matt has just been special. I mean, he came over, I think he brings a lot to – I think Denny and Kyle both really respect him. I think that’s helped a lot. I think he kind of likes working with them, so we’ve got three guys that really, I think, can get after it and drive a race car. I’m really happy, too, for Jason. If you think about it, he’s been with us quite a while. He’s had a bunch of wins, obviously, in our Nationwide Series, but really proud of him and our team, and of course the one thing we know that’s special about our sport, you’ve got to have a great sponsor or you can’t race. Rick Dreiling and Dollar General has just been absolutely fantastic for us. We think they’re a great partnership, really proud of them, and we’re just – hey, I don’t know what words you want to use, but we’re thrilled.
Q. Matt, getting this out of the way and just getting it done early, how much of just pure relief is this, and how much pressure is off you now and you can just kind of go out week to week and go race for a championship?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don’t know that it changes a lot. I mean, I’m not a huge goal person, but my goal was to win and to win early. I felt like I just – nobody has put any pressure on my except for myself, but I also know that Coach hired me to come in there and climb in that car and win races so you certainly want to do that and you don’t want to disappoint people. I’m glad we got a win, but it’s still only week three. I feel like this is the beginning, you know, and have a lot of confidence, had a lot of confidence after our first meeting and decided to go do this and just had a great feeling about it. And I still do.
So it’s great to get the win. It’s always great to get a win early in the season, but you certainly don’t want to act like it stops. You want to go to the next one and start thinking – we go on a plane to go home tonight, start thinking about Bristol and what we’re going to try to do there. That’s the great thing about the sport, it never stops, you only get to enjoy it for a couple days.
But to answer your question it feels really great to get the win, and hopefully that’ll keep some momentum going for our team.
Q. I know how important track position was, but was there any debate between you and Jason to stay out on the old tires?
MATT KENSETH: No. No, not at all. Honestly, I was grinning inside as I was leaving pit road. All I said on the track, I was like – I knew we had to pit, I was like, try to keep me up front if you can. I didn’t say anything when he came on pit road and said that we only needed fuel. I had him counting under his breath. I thought oh, I thought he was filling it up. I left pit road, and I was like, that’s what you like.
You know, you’re hoping, dreaming, all that stuff, to work with somebody that doesn’t only prepare race cars to win races, but you want to call races to win races and do pit stops to win races and adjust cars to win races and be aggressive. The last two weeks he’s been really aggressive on both counts and felt like got the cars good enough to go up there and win races if all the stars aligned.
Q. And to follow up with Jason, how did you react to his reaction?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, we were talking about it, my two engineers and myself, we were like, okay, how much fuel do we need? We’re going to pick up about a little over a second if we don’t take tires, or we can take right side tires if there’s going to be some more cautions later in the race that’s probably going to be the right call. And then when Matt came on the radio – I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it, he said, man, just keep me up front, I said, okay, game on.
So it worked good. And last week we had a little trouble on pit road, and we felt like that we would have had a shot to win that race if we could have got off pit road where we came in, and we weren’t going to let that happen again today.
Q. Matt, people weren’t surprised or aren’t surprised to see you find a way to just keep working your way methodically up through and keeping your car underneath you and saving something for the end, but do you feel that you get full credit for the fact that you had to race real hard at the end to hold off Kasey Kahne? How do you feel about that?
MATT KENSETH: Well, anybody that’s known me very long knows that I don’t really look for credit, and it really doesn’t matter to me if I get it. I’d almost rather not have it. I’ve been around for a while, slow race cars and not smart people and all that stuff don’t win races. So it is about the organization, it’s about the stuff that they give you, the engines TRE builds, the job Jason does not only with making the cars fast and adjustments, calling the races but also with his leadership, and getting the guys organized and cars prepared to win races.
I’m just the lucky guy sitting in the seat. Of course I’m going to give it everything I’ve got every race no matter where I’m running, but if he wouldn’t have put it out front and made all the adjustments and done that, I wouldn’t have been in position to win the race.
Q. When Toyota was at the height of its engine issues last week or it seemed like there was so much concern in the Toyota camp about the reliability and there had been the problems at Daytona, were you like, man, why did I make this decision to jump? Did it cause you any worry at all?
MATT KENSETH: No, not really, honestly. Leaving Daytona I was probably one of the only people – I was probably the most enthused person in the organization leaving Daytona I would have to guess. Everything that was in our control we did a good job at. I think we called the race great, had great pit stops, did everything right, we were leading the race, dominated the middle part of the race, had both our teammates second and third behind us. From my standpoint it couldn’t have been any better except to finish. When you’re trying hard, you’re always trying to make the most power to make your car handle the best you can and do all that kind of stuff, every once in a while you’re going to have something happen. And I didn’t mess it up. We were leading, and I would have been more disappointed leading Daytona if I were leading the last lap and finished eighth.
I felt good about it. I felt that we did everything we could do, and that was supposed to be kind of funny. If someone wants to laugh that would be okay. But no, I felt okay about it. The stuff runs really, really good, and I knew obviously they knew there was a problem there and they were going to work on it and fix it.
Q. In 14 years of watching you in Cup I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that emotional in the last 20 laps and after the race. You were literally screaming out there toward the end of the race. Is it just a factor of this being a new situation, how much it’s meant to you, how much pressure you’ve put on yourself that you’re known as being so calm and cool, and to see you that emotional was kind of different for a lot of us?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, there was a lot of reasons for that. You know, I was pretty comfortable where I was at. We had cars that could win races. We had an organization that could win races. Pretty comfortable, and this was – although I knew, and I still know it’s not really that much of a risk and I’m 100 percent sure it was the right thing and all that, but still, there’s some pressure, there’s some unknowns. I hope to have a lot of wins and hopefully championships in front of me still.
I mean, to come over there and get in that car, I know they’re expecting me to perform and do my job. Before this year I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever been nervous at all inside of a race car, and every week it gets a little bit better. But you’re always a little bit nervous and you want to meet their expectations or exceed them, and you want to go do your job to the best of your ability.
I’m pretty fired up to win with these guys. Like I said, I hope there’s a lot more in front of us, but just really excited to be part of the organization and part of the family. They’ve made me feel so welcome there, and part of that group, and just glad that I was able to do my job today and get the win and hopefully we can keep moving forward.
Q. Matt, you always race hard and you always go fast, but today just looked visibly fast, just watching the cars. Other guys have talked about how crazy the pace was, sliding sideways. What was it like out there today?
MATT KENSETH: It was a really interesting race from my seat, so the groove really moved around a lot. You could really manipulate your car’s handling a lot by where you decided to run on the racetrack, and you don’t necessarily always have that. And I feel like that’s one of my weak points is usually finally getting off the bottom or trying something different or whatever. You really had to work hard today to find something.
But yeah, the pace was fast. There was one run where I was pretty darn happy with the car and they weren’t really backing up to me very fast. I think we were running fifth or sixth or something. We were gaining on them a little bit, but not a lot. So I thought it was really an entertaining race. I was watching Kyle run up there and get the lead, and Kasey would be better in the long run and start working different groove and go back by him.
I thought it was interesting and you had to pay a lot of attention all the time, and you had to keep looking and keep trying to find more grip and a place to make your car faster.
Q. Matt, from my position in Turn 2, I saw more grooves, I think it was an unlimited number of grooves from the white line all the way to the outside wall for much of the day, and I think you used every one of them at some point during the day. Do you think a lot of that is attributable to this new car? And do you expect to see this now despite the consternation that a lot of people were talking about on these mile and a halves, do you think we’ll see that more?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I hope so. I think it makes the racing more interesting when there’s more than one groove on the racetrack. I know it makes it more interesting and challenging for a driver than if everybody is just stuck in one groove. Yeah, you saw people all over the track today. There was one time we were running up in 1 and 2 about two-thirds of the way through the corner you’re underneath those shades of the billboard, and you weren’t sure how much room you had left to the wall. So they kept taking the gray and turning it black and moving it higher and higher.
3 and 4 kind of stopped. That last five or six feet was kind of slick, but 1 and 2 got really wide, had a lot of grip up there. For me my car would be tighter if I ran up there than if you ran lower and most of the day we kind of fought loose. So I had to run high probably 70 to 80 percent of the race.
Q. Now that it’s your 29th birthday for the 12th time, what is on the agenda for you tonight, and do you get an extra day to enjoy it?
MATT KENSETH: Well, we’re going to fly home tonight. I had a really, really fun week actually. We came to – I got to Phoenix on Thursday or whatever, and then Katie and my two girls and her mom and dad came to Phoenix on Saturday and loaded up our Sequoia, and I felt like Clark Griswold. And we drove up through Sedona and up through the Grand Canyon. There was a zoo down there by Flagstaff. We did all that for a few days and got here Wednesday. We’ve been gone for a fair amount of time, and we’re all ready to get home.
Q. For Joe Gibbs, you had two of the top 4 today and three of the top 5 yesterday. What does that mean for your team going forward?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think the consistency factor, I felt like yesterday we had very, very good cars. I have a lot of confidence in our Nationwide program, and we love Nationwide, by the way. Our sponsors, I said this, we’re running four cars in a lot of those races. I think that says a lot about our sport. We have a lot of sponsors come to us and say, hey, we want to win Nationwide, and I think that’s good for the series. I think think it’s going to be very competitive. We were good yesterday.
We’ve had a tough couple of weeks, and I think that’s why this win means so much and the fact that we had, like you mentioned, three good cars. I think it says that we’re on the right track with some things, and so Matt probably said it best today; in sports you’re never satisfied. I’m already worried about next week and all the things that you have to sweat out.
But I do think I’m really confident in our drivers, our teams, our crew chiefs, and so I feel very good about that.
I know J.D., too, he wasn’t here, and he was yelling over the phone and in the winner’s circle. He’s fired up, too. It’s everybody back home. Everybody back at Joe Gibbs Racing, we appreciate them.
Q. Matt, as Terry said you were screaming into your radio a little bit at the end. Is the communication with the spotter just what you need in that situation, the biggest transition when you’re dealing with new people at a new place?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, honestly everybody we got that I know that’s a part of this fits perfectly, including Chris. So man, it’s only our third race with him, but he has been awesome. He is so good. He helped us win that race. He gave me the information that we needed, and it was really important. He understood what was important to me, but it was very important not to let Kasey get on the side of me. If he did, I was done, and he did a really good job of telling me where he was running.
I only had 20 feet I could really move around on. There were certain spots I couldn’t run because my car was getting tight and wouldn’t allow me to do it. But yeah, all that information, especially at the end when you’re catching lap cars and communicating to them guys, he’s been really good at. Usually when I ask him something he usually has it done before I even ask him, so that’s always fun.