Interview With New Hampshire NASCAR Race Winner – Matt Kenseth
A couple things before we start. It’s a career-best seventh win in 2013 for Matt Kenseth, his first win at New Hampshire, and he wins on his 500th career start. I believe the only other driver that’s ever done that is a fellow by the name of Richard Petty.
This is also the third time that a driver has won the first two races in the Chase, and certainly Joe Gibbs Racing, one-two the first two weeks. That’s never been done in the Chase.
Matt, talk about how you came to the racetrack. Obviously when you left Chicago, I’m sure you were just hoping to get through this weekend, and yet here you are in victory lane. How did that happen?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, you never go to the track and hope to just get through a weekend, but yet certainly if I had to pick all the races, this is probably one that I had probably more anxiety over than most just because I really feel like I’m the weak link here. We had a pretty good car in the spring, and I kind of messed it up a little bit, and I was hoping we’d have a good car today and I didn’t want to hold them back.
I felt a little bit – I was a little bit worried about this weekend more so than some tracks just because it has been a tough track for me. It’s tough to pass, it’s easy to get shuffled back on a restart and not get such a good finish.
Had a great day on Friday, great day of practice, really, really fast in race trim. We were off just a little bit qualifying, still qualified well, and then really fast on Saturday in race trim. So I felt really confident with my car today. To have a fast car and to be able to do all the right things with adjustments and strategy and pit stops and all that stuff and be out front and win is two different things, so it’s just – I’m thankful to be part of this group, and it’s just honestly doesn’t really seem real that we won yet today.
Q: Also the 13th win for a Toyota Camry this year in the Sprint Cup Series. That’s the most that that manufacturer has won in a single season in Sprint Cup.
Jason Ratcliff, crew chief, just talk about how you got the car better throughout the weekend and how you guys pulled this off today.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, this is one of those weekends that I felt like we unloaded strong off the truck, and any time you can do that, typically it’s going to be a good weekend for you. We ran pretty good here in the first race a few months ago, and I felt like we were – we came back and we were able to take what we learned there and apply the things that we felt like we could do better, and it proved to be successful this weekend, obviously.
I don’t think Matt gives himself enough credit around this place. One thing you have to do really well, I think, to win a race here is you have to be exceptional at restarts, and track position is huge, especially when most of the guys are going to have either old left sides or old right side tires, and it makes it difficult to get going, and aero is a big deal, as well. His restarts were exceptional today, and I think that was one of the keys that got us a victory.
Q: J.D., certainly an excellent start for Joe Gibbs Racing. As I mentioned, one-two second straight week, and just talk about that, maybe how that’s playing out.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, I think my dad is in the back over there, so give him a hard time for not being up front.
But it’s one of those things, like honestly, if you get the right people in your organization, the rest is easy. I’m not allowed to touch any cars, touch any equipment, but we just have a great team, and those guys, Matt and Jason, have really gelled well. They’ve helped Kyle out and Denny, so it’s just been fun to be a part of that whole process.
Q. Since J.D. and Matt have been through championships, I’ll give this to Jason. Crew chiefs look at numbers all the time. Now you’ve got the first two wins. How do you keep you guys’ nose to the grindstone and not get ahead of yourself?
JASON RATCLIFF: We sat down a couple weeks ago and just kind of had a little informal meeting, went to lunch, and I think our philosophy or thought process coming in was let’s just continue to do what we’ve been doing. It’s been pretty successful so far this season, so let’s – we don’t need to do anything different, we don’t need to do anything new, and the guys have done a really good job of doing that, of paying attention to details and executing at the shop as well as at the racetrack.
And we’re just going to continue to do that. Obviously we haven’t done anything different than we’ve done all season for the last two weeks, and it’s worked pretty well for us, so we’re just going to continue to do that, and I think it’ll pan out.
Q. Matt, can you talk a little bit about Kyle? You said that it’s tough racing him because he’s just that good. And for J.D., the problem that you have, having both the top champion contenders under the same roof.
MATT KENSETH: Man, what a terrible problem to have, huh?
You know, racing Kyle, everybody in the garage knows that there’s not a driver more talented than Kyle. It’s not tough racing him like you don’t want to race him; it’s tough racing him because you know that you’re not going to be allowed many mistakes, and he was – we’d break even a lot when he was behind me, and then I’d mess up a little bit and he’d grab two tenths that one lap. I think out of that last however many laps we ran when Jason was giving me lap times, he only had two or three laps that were way off on time, when he caught some lap cars.
There’s just not a lot of room for error, and obviously he’s in the same kind of equipment, and he’s as good as they get.
Just didn’t really want him to get any closer. He was gaining there at the end, and I got slowed up a little bit by some lap cars, and this place is really line sensitive. It’s real easy, at least for me, to miss your line and lose two or three tenths. I didn’t want to do that and get him any closer.
J.D. GIBBS: As far as for me, really the way I look at it, I don’t have any problems on that front, just because we have three great drivers who communicate well with each other and work well together. So I think – and Matt kind of leads that off. Not that he’s old, but he’s been around for quite a while, so he’s just a great part of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q. Jason, you mentioned about the 500th win and how meaningful was it for Matt, and how meaningful was it for you as a crew chief to help deliver that to them, and were you aware of his anxiety about getting around this place? You mentioned, I think, it was like a golfer coming to the tee and striping it down the fairway, and I know that for him finding the rough here is kind of easily done. Do you think this gives him even more confidence going through the Chase?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, one thing that I know about competitors like Matt is they’re going to work extremely hard in the areas that they have the most anxiety, if that’s what you want to call it.
But again, I felt like we had a good race here a few months ago, and when we left we knew what we needed to do to be better. Matt typically tells me the racetracks that he’s more fond of, not the ones he’s not fond of. But I’m quickly learning which ones he doesn’t like so much.
But after today, I think this one is definitely not at the bottom of his list, and I think it just proves that with the right group and the right equipment, we have great equipment, that all the guys and the men and women back at Huntersville do a great job of preparing race cars for us. When you have all those parts and pieces, I think anything is possible, obviously.
I just happened to see it on TV that The King was the only one to do that, and obviously I know that’s a big deal for Matt, and it’s a big deal for myself and this race team to be a part of that with Matt. You only get that opportunity one time, and to be able to come out and win, especially at your least favorite racetrack, I think that’s one that you’ll remember forever.
All the wins are great. I think Matt, I think everyone in this sport would say there’s no one that’s any better than the other, but this is definitely one that’ll rank up on top.
Q. Jason and Matt, you guys start the Chase at Chicagoland, talking like the other guys, we’re just one of 13 guys that have a chance to win it. Now you’ve gone two for two. There’s a lot of guys in the back of this thing now that are almost a full race or a full race behind you already. Are your expectations, or have your expectations changed?
JASON RATCLIFF: No, I don’t think so. I felt like once we – I don’t remember where we were, sixth or seventh in points when we came out of Richmond, and it all sorted out, but I felt like what we have been able to accomplish this season that we could be a contender, obviously. And I think obviously the last couple weeks we’ve proven that we can go out and compete and do what it takes to win the championship. A lot of racing left, and I’m still going to – and I don’t know what the points are right now. You mentioned it. But there’s a lot of fierce competitors, a lot of great competitors that can still jump out there on any given week. And any of them can come out and win the next four, and we know that.
We’ve got to keep bringing – as Matt would say we’ve got to keep bringing our A game each week. I feel really good about it. I think we’re no different than I thought two weeks ago. We’re going to be a strong contender when it all shakes out, but we’ve got to keep doing the right things if we’re going to get there.
MATT KENSETH: My outlook is really not any different or approach honestly. I know it’s kind of cliché, but it really is one week at a time, especially right now. If you get down toward the end and you’re lucky enough to have a lead or something, maybe you start looking at that more or thinking about it more, but man, two whole months and eight weeks of racing is a lot of racing, and in this system one bad finish and you’re behind.
I think that I’ll enjoy the heck out of this tonight and start working on thinking about Dover tomorrow and figure out how we can go there and perform well, and like I say, just take it one week at a time and hope we keep getting the results.
Q. Matt, did you get emotional in victory lane?
MATT KENSETH: Absolutely not.
Q. You’re not known for showing a whole lot of emotion. If you did, is there a particular reason for that?
MATT KENSETH: Just happy. You know, I mean, it’s just – honestly it’s just been – I’ve said this over and over and you guys are probably sick of hearing it, but it’s just been an unbelievable year. It’s just been an amazing blessing to be part of this group, and happy to have the success we’re having. But even without that honestly I’ve just made a lot of friendships I really feel at home there. I just really enjoy being part of it; when you can have success on top of it obviously that makes it even more fun.
Q. Do you see this win almost as a bonus, like when you were probably looking at the Chase and seeing where you could get wins and get kind of maximum points?
MATT KENSETH: I don’t know about a bonus. You know, it’s really hard to win these races, and you need to remember that while you’re winning them because you go through the losing streaks and it’s easy to remember them. It’s so competitive, and there really is such a talented group of drivers and race teams that we’re racing against each and every week that, yeah, you’ve got to enjoy the wins you get and the good days that you have.
Yeah, if you’re going to ask me do we have a better chance of winning Chicago or New Hampshire, you know, and if you had to rate all 10 races what I thought our chances were to win, this would be toward the bottom because I’m not very good here. So I guess if you want to look at it that way, I guess you could say it’s a bonus. But man, the way the whole weekend went and the speed we had and how the car drove, I was more confident coming into today’s race than I’ve ever been coming into a New Hampshire race. So I was hoping for big things today.
Q. Kind of following up, the way this lays out for you now, you’ve got Dover next week, I know you love running there; Kansas, you won there in April; Charlotte, you’ve won there, you like that track; and then Talladega where you won last year. Is the next track where you’re going to have anxiety going to be Martinsville?
MATT KENSETH: Again, anything can happen anywhere. You can be at your best track and have whatever happen and get a bad finish. But certainly have a lot of confidence in the next three tracks coming up for sure. In the past they’ve been good tracks for us. I felt like we were real strong at Dover in the spring and I know I had a mechanical problem but I thought we were pretty strong when we ran there.
And certainly Kansas has been good for us, although we are going there with a different tire, so that might change things up a little bit.
And Charlotte, the 600 was good, as well.
I’m looking forward to going all those tracks. There’s really not a track I’m not looking forward to going to, to be honest with you. Really the next eight weeks if you want to talk about anxiety is Talladega, and I think all the drivers would say that. I felt really good about the spring Talladega and the spring Daytona, but in July at Daytona we just didn’t quite have the speed and ended up kind of being in the middle and getting caught up in a wreck.
You’re never sure what you’re going to have there until you get there. You build your best car and TRD gives you their best engine, and you go there and kind of see how you match up. Probably Talladega because there are a lot of things there that are out of your control.
Q. Even Martinsville?
MATT KENSETH: I feel okay about Martinsville. I think Martinsville and Loudon are enough different where I don’t know that you use the same setup stuff, stuff like that, but man, Martinsville in the spring was the best run I’ve ever had there. We didn’t get the finish, we didn’t finish as high as we ran, but I thought we were the – the worst we should have finished was sixth or seventh or something like that, which was a good run. Led some laps; we were up front. I think we learned a lot from that race. I think I can be better when we go back and I think we learned a lot about what the track will do.
I’m actually pretty confident going to Martinsville. Feel pretty good about it.
Q. Matt, what accomplishment is more meaningful to you at this moment, the seven wins being a career high in a season, or that four of these wins have come at tracks that you have not won a Cup race at before?
MATT KENSETH: I didn’t even think about that. Just the wins, the success we’ve had. Like I said, the relationships that I’ve been building, those have been all the special things about the season honestly.
It’s hard to –
Q. Is it more meaningful from a performance point of view that you’ve won so many or won at places that you haven’t?
MATT KENSETH: Well, here’s the thing: To be able to contend and to be able to try to race for a championship, you’ve got to be good everywhere. And I know there’s five mile-and-a-halfs; they talk about that, although I don’t know that Kansas and Texas could be any different. But they talk about that.
You have all kinds of different sizes and shapes of racetracks, and when you’re racing against that whole group, you look at what the 48 can do and the 18 and you look at all those guys, and they’re going to be good everywhere, so you’d better be good everywhere if you’re thinking that you’re going to be a contender.
So I’d say it’s probably kind of equal. Chicago, everybody likes to lump the big tracks together, so you want to be strong at those tracks obviously, and I think this was meaningful because this is somewhat similar to Phoenix and Martinsville.
Q. Can you just talk about when the weather kind of changed, it kind of got really cloudy, how did it affect your car? And J.D., Matt came over to your organization this year; did you ever think mid-September seven wins?
J.D. GIBBS: No. Honestly, we’ve known Matt for a long time, but in all reality, we wouldn’t have guessed seven wins. And so it’s just – he just has such a good leadership role that Kyle and Denny really pick his brain, listen to him. It’s good for our whole organization.
So it’s just been really a blessing for Joe Gibbs Racing to have Matt come on board.
MATT KENSETH: You know, the main thing for me is I couldn’t see as good so I had to open my visor again. But other than that I thought I gained some grip, and it got a little bit tighter, which I guess it typically does as it builds rubber here. Just seemed to gain a little grip. I don’t know if it was really a big advantage to us or if it mattered much, but it seemed like you could get off the corner a little better.
Q. Matt, just wanted to see if I could ask you to kind of reflect on the meaningfulness of your 500th start and winning on that start and joining Richard Petty as the only ones who have ever done that, accomplished that feat. And why is it that this place has been so difficult for people to repeat in terms of winning a race here? 12 races now, we’ve had 12 different winners. Seems like when you win a race here you might have assembled a play book on it. What makes it so difficult to win here?
MATT KENSETH: I don’t know about the different winners thing. I really don’t. It’s a hard track to pass. You know, so there’s the advantage of being up front and track position and strategy and all that stuff. You’ve got to do everything right to win. I don’t know why some tracks get in that streak where you just have different winners all the time, and I’m glad today they had a different one.
The 500th start, I’m glad to get the win. It’s really meaningful to me. Honestly starts are kind of like birthdays; when they start getting that high you kind of wish that people weren’t counting them anymore. And the car and everything was kind of a surprise. To me I’m not sure whose idea it was or who approved it, which was really nice and really cool, and it was really special for me that Home Depot and Dollar General and JGR and everybody did that for me with that special paint job.
But I’m hoping to race at JGR for a lot of years, and you guys keep talking about stats and starts and Richard Petty and all this, J.D. keeps sitting here going, he’s old, we’re not going to keep him around that long, he’s done. So I guess more than being proud of 500 starts, I’m proud that our performance is this good after 500 starts. It’s been the best season of my career by far, and I just hope we can keep that rolling.
Q. Jason and Matt, there was a fair amount of experimentation strategy-wise today about when to pit, two tires, four tires. Did you guys come into the event with any sort of strategy about what to do in given situations, and how did that change as the race progressed?
JASON RATCLIFF: I mean, you know track position is key here, and you’ve got to have it, obviously. But even when you get it, it’s tough to keep it, and it’s because there’s no out of bounds. There’s nothing that you can’t come down pit road and do, whether it’s right sides only, left sides only, four tires, fuel only. And so you don’t know what your competitors are going to do, and that makes it extremely difficult.
Sometimes you feel like you run enough laps, you have a decent feel for what your competitors are going to do, and as long as you can not stay on pit road any longer than they do, then obviously you’re going to keep your track position. Well, not here. Guys get extremely creative. So that’s the tough part.
There was one time we had 50 something laps on our tires, and I thought, well, everybody is going to take four. Why wouldn’t you? And a lot of them didn’t, and performed well with it, which taught us something, and thankfully we had enough laps left in the race to make that back up.
So this has always been a difficult racetrack to work out a pit strategy ahead of time. I think you have to wait and see how the cautions fall, and you just have to play it by ear, and thankfully our strategy worked out for us today.
Q. Because I know you hate get being asked about this, I’m going to ask it anyway. When you won your title in 2003 you won one race, and now this year you’ve won two more races than you’ve ever won before. Is there any more of an indication for you to win the championship this way? Is it kind of cool to maybe bookend it that way if you can do it?
MATT KENSETH: Man, I don’t know – I can’t think of a – if you’re fortunate enough to win a championship or another championship or whatever, I don’t think there’s a bad way to win it. I mean, that whole – I know it still gets brought up because it was the last year without the Chase, and we won one race and did all that stuff. I was really proud of what we did that year. That was tough to accomplish. We ran well, got good finishes.
Every year is different. Who knows what’s going to happen the next eight weekends. There’s a ton of racing to do. Obviously I feel great about our performance. When we talk about wins and Chases and stuff, I think of Tony Stewart. He won the championship driving the 20 car without a win in the Chase, and he won in his own car winning half the races in the Chase.
I don’t think there’s a magic formula. You just have to have more points than whoever finishes second. That’s how you win it.
But bottom line, I’m not really answering your question, I guess, but either way would be really special. Obviously your goal every year coming in is to win a championship. I think if you’re fortunate enough to do that, it’s going to be – it would be special beyond words obviously I think for anybody out there that’s trying to win it, because they’re obviously really hard to win when you have like Jimmie and Tony, I think they’ve hogged seven of them in the last nine years or eight years or something like that. It doesn’t leave a lot for anybody else. It’s hard, so you just work as hard at it as you can and hope it works out in the end.
I kind of answered it, right? Sorta?
Q. Matt, when somebody has success, the perception is for a season like this that seven wins, you’re suddenly this great driver, and a lot of the drivers will say, hey, we didn’t forget how to drive when we weren’t winning races. I know it’s a formula, it’s a little bit of this, a little bit of this, but how has this team made you a better driver to put you in this position to win at a place you were worried about, at other places you haven’t won at? What have they done to allow you to show your skills at some of these places or how have they helped you improve at some of these places?
MATT KENSETH: Man, that’s honestly a tough question to answer. If there was a couple things that were magic, I certainly wouldn’t share them in front of the microphone because I’d want to hog them for myself.
But it’s been a great mix. I think the organization is really strong, starts at the top obviously with Coach and I guess J.D. and goes from there.
Q. Do you think you’re a better driver than you were last year? The stats show that you are and everybody is going to perceive that you are.
MATT KENSETH: I was going to get there eventually. I was just rambling a little bit.
You know, and leading the team starts with Jason. We’ve obviously been able to hit it off and understand each other and all that stuff, and having fast race cars. You can take the best driver in the garage and put him in a last place car and he’s not going to win.
I think a lot of this sport is always about combinations. When you think of Jimmie and Chad, Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon, there wasn’t anybody that could beat them. You look at all these different combinations and success that teams have had, I think that’s a lot of it. It has to start with the organization that has the fast cars and have all that stuff, but you’ve got to have the right group, and I’m really fortunate right now to have the right group.
No, I don’t feel like I’m necessarily a better driver than what I was last year. Certainly things are different. We go about things different, and I think I’ve learned a lot. I think I’ve learned a lot this year, and you would think after doing it a while maybe you wouldn’t learn anything, but everything was all different, so I did come in with my ears and eyes open and tried to learn as much as I can. But I don’t feel really behind the wheel I’m really any different.