Matt, third win this year. That leads everybody in the Sprint Cup Series. You’re up to third in points. Congratulations on your win tonight. Also congratulations on your son Ross’ win at South Boston tonight. Big evening tonight for the Kenseth men. Talk about how you won this race tonight.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks. I appreciate it.
Yeah, I mean, the win, all the guys that work on the car really, everybody that puts these things together, everybody prepared all week, the guys doing the pit stops, Jason working back there on it as well. Obviously, Wally headed the ship this weekend. Everybody at Toyota.
The car was really, really fast. We had a lot of speed in it. We just kind of got off. The racetrack changed, we got much looser than we anticipated. We really could never get it. The second to last pit stop we made we had it closer, but then it took off and wasn’t going to be near good enough. I don’t know what they changed the last pit stop.
I told them about four laps into the run, if we were going green to the end, we were going to be pretty good.
Thankfully we saved the best for last.
Q: How does it feel to win at Darlington, as well.
MATT KENSETH: Man, it’s right up there. I don’t know that I’ve had a win that feels bigger than this at this moment.
This is obviously a really historic racetrack, the Southern 500 is one of the most storied and historic races anywhere, not just in NASCAR. It’s pretty cool to be able to stand in Victory Lane at this place, same spot where all the other great drivers stood. Pretty neat race to win, for sure.
Q: Wally Brown, crew chief. Talk about how things went for you this weekend.
WALLY BROWN: Overall the weekend went pretty good. Just due to the preparation of the 20 guys, Jason Ratcliff, they put a lot of effort, several test plans, we had our plan all weekend. It actually went pretty smooth.
Once the race started, I noticed we were able to hang in there for a while. I knew at that point we’d be okay if we just kept up with the track positions, that we would have a good night.
Q: J.D., not only did you win this race tonight, but you were 1-2. Denny coming in second. Matt Kenseth, three wins. Denny is back in the saddle. Kyle had a great run tonight, but that unfortunate deal happened. You have to feel good about the performance of Joe Gibbs Racing so far.
J.D. GIBBS: We do. I think all of our drivers, Matt and Denny and Kyle, they’re just good behind the wheel. I was talking to Wally Brown a little bit earlier. I said, Hey, you coming out of retirement?
He said, I’ve re-retired. I’m done.
We love the fact our penalty got cut back, but no one loved it as much as Wally did.
Q. Matt, you’re a serious champion, won a couple of Daytona 500s. Why is this one of the biggest wins?
MATT KENSETH: Man, there’s just a lot of reasons. Just to win the Southern 500, obviously it’s a little bit different since they moved it from Labor Day. To me it still has the same meaning.
I remember when I first came here and ran it Labor Day, it was 90 degrees, the track is so slick and slow, a five-hour race. It was just a crazy, grueling, difficult race.
It’s a tricky track. There’s a lot of tradition here. To be able to win a race at a track like this, especially the Southern 500, man, it’s big. In my mind, it’s one of the biggest races we have of the year really. It’s just a special place to win at.
Q. Matt, you mentioned the historic significance of winning at Darlington. This also puts you within six wins of being in the top 20 all time in wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Looking back at your career, did you ever imagine you would be at that level over the whole history of NASCAR?
MATT KENSETH: Especially being so young (smiling).
I’m trying to look forward and not back. I’m hoping Joe and J.D. keep me around for a long time. Certainly I’ve been fortunate and blessed throughout my career to have great race teams, great people working on the cars, great sponsors, the whole thing.
I’ve been very fortunate. I got the good job. I got the easy job. They give me cars that are this fast and drive like this, it sure is a lot of fun.
Q. Matt, a lot of people compared you to David Pearson over the years. Laid back, save the best for last. I don’t know if you were saving anything or not tonight. Does that go into the factor that it makes it more special? Did you ever look up to Pearson?
MATT KENSETH: Tonight it kind of worked out like that. We’ve led a lot of laps this year. We’ve been up front, not really finished them all off, like last week for instance. I don’t do the right thing, we take a car that I feel like should have won and finished eighth. That’s disappointing.
Tonight really through that middle portion of the race I thought we had about a fifth-place car. We had good track position. We were somewhere in there. Start of the race we were really good, first two runs. Then we got off. Man, we were trying. A lot of those long green-flag runs, we didn’t have time to take a breath and make huge adjustments. All those guys worked back there to make the right adjustments.
Fortunately we got that caution with whatever it was, 25 to go. Had a good, solid pit stop. Had great adjustments.
I told Wally, If this thing goes green to the end, we might be okay. You’ll never know if Kyle didn’t have a problem whether we would have been able to beat him or not. But that certainly was our fastest run of the day and it was incredibly fast when we needed it to be.
Q. J.D. could you specifically address Denny’s performance, his chances at making the Chase.
J.D. GIBBS: When he came over to congratulate Matt after the race was over, I asked him how he was feeling. He said, I’m sore because, man, I’ve wanted this for a long time. He’s passionate about it.
I think when you’re not in the sport, you haven’t been driving for a while, it reignites that passion. He’s kind of back in that mode.
He felt a little bit of pain, but it wasn’t nearly what he thought it might be. I think he’s excited to be back in that role.
Q. Chase chances?
J.D. GIBBS: I don’t know. Going to have to win some races, get top 20s. I told Matt, Why didn’t you let Denny win?
Matt is like, I ain’t going to let him win (laughter).
I think he’s got pretty good chances, but it’s hard to predict that stuff.
Q. J.D., for a track nicknamed, “The track too tough to tame,” you guys tamed it. Talk about that performance, what it was that your team had this weekend.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, you know, I really don’t know. It was just a blessing. Great to be a part of it. I told the guys that ran the track, Hey, I raced here years ago. I was probably the worst driver ever, ever, ever at Darlington they’ve seen here.
MATT KENSETH: Not probably (laughter).
J.D. GIBBS: I just think our whole team, we’ve just got a great team. So from top to bottom, drivers, crew chiefs, guys that travel, guys back at the shop, I think that really pays off on the weekend.
It pays off in Nationwide. That’s kind of our training ground for our guys to move up to Cup. Then it pays off in Cup. We have guys that work hard, long hours. They enjoy it. They enjoy winning races, too.
Q. Matt, if you don’t win the appeal, most of the appeal, on Wednesday, do you still win this race or do you feel it would have been just been deflating for the team?
MATT KENSETH: No, I don’t think anything would have been any different. Jason would have been home either way. So I don’t think it would have made any difference.
Q. J.D., you knew in the off-season bringing Matt in you were getting a champion. Success early when he makes a change is not typical. Are you surprised with where Matt is right now? Matt, are you actually kind of surprised with the early-season success you’ve had as well?
J.D. GIBBS: You know, I knew Matt pretty well before. When he came on the team, he’s a good leader. I think Denny and Kyle really like having him there, hearing what he has to say. On the racetrack, he just has a gift.
So I think it’s really been a blessing for Joe Gibbs Racing to have him join our team. We look forward to a great future.
Q. Wally, J.D. joked about coming out of retirement to do this. Where were you before tonight? Where do you go now? Are you stunned to be here?
J.D. GIBBS: That’s a good question (laughter).
WALLY BROWN: I’ll be back on the shop floor Monday morning doing my regular job. This was, again, a one-race deal just to help out.
Q. (No microphone.)
WALLY BROWN: Jason was pivotal to this win. We were in constant communication at all times. This win is because of him and his guys, how prepared they are. It’s amazing.
MATT KENSETH: That’s not what Wally told me earlier (smiling).
Q. Matt, you’ve won 3 of your first 11 races with Joe Gibbs Racing. Some people are saying, What if the team is peaking too early. Is there any concern there? Are you concerned about it?
MATT KENSETH: No. I mean, I’m not a big believer in that. I think the goal of a race team and an organization is to never peak, I think it’s to continue to keep getting better. That’s one thing I’ve seen over there pretty much from day one. They’re not standing still.
They’re always trying to build a better car. TRD is trying to build a better engine. We’re always trying to do that, working on the future. I think that’s how racing is.
No, I don’t have any concern. I really feel like with this team, driving this car, I feel like the sky’s the limit. This stuff has been incredibly fast. Jason and I have a special bond right away, with the whole team. Gosh, I couldn’t feel much better about our year so far.
Q. Kyle Busch, is it different the way you approach it after something like that happens, you beat a guy that dominated the race? When you go to the shop, is it any different there? Is it going to be tough for him to come back from something like that?
MATT KENSETH: Look, we’ve all been there. Man, it’s crushing when you lead all day like that and don’t come home with a win, especially if it’s something that you get a flat tire or something. Really disappointing.
Kyle and Denny both, they’re great teammates. They’re both capable of winning any racetrack, any week. That helps me a lot. That really makes me a better driver, elevates my game.
I’m sure Kyle is disappointed. I was disappointed last week. We led all the laps. I messed up the green-white-checkered. I don’t know what I could have done different, but finished eighth. That’s always disappointing.
I think everything is going to be fine. I think there’s a lot to be encouraged about there, how good all three cars ran. They’ll be ready to race next week.
Q. J.D., obviously you have won championships in the past. Kind of putting the start of the season in perspective, do you think you’ve ever been as strong top to bottom, series to series, team to team, and competitive as you have been this season?
J.D. GIBBS: I think we have been strong in the past. I think what we’ve learned over all these years is you have to be consistent. You can’t start off too strong. To me, it’s just that consistency. I think our guys really get that at the shop.
Then Nationwide, the reality of Nationwide is you’re never going to make a lot of money doing it, but it’s the best training ground we could ever have. I don’t care if you’re engineers, mechanics, crew chiefs, drivers, if you can do it through that, the guys get a chance to watch you.
A lot of our guys came through Nationwide, so they pay real attention to what’s going on down there. That really helps out and gives us a great foundation.