Matt, talk a little bit about your run out there today.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, we started the race, and our car was unbelievable fast the first 120 laps or so. We could pretty much run out there as far as we wanted to. And then I think the big change really was people did different pit cycles and got us back a little bit, the sun came out, the track rubbered up and it really changed our race car. It was kind of a blessing to get back there in a way because we had to work on it a little bit more and I had to work a lot harder, find a different groove for more grip and do some of that stuff.
Anyway, it turned out just right. We had a good restart when we needed to and got by five or six of them guys, got up to second, and then of course Ricky pitted and we were leading that last caution where we knew everybody needed some fuel and tires. It all worked out for us. Once our car was in front, it was really fast, and I knew if you could get me out there I was going to be hard to beat.
Q: Also joining Matt is co-owner J.D. Gibbs. This is the third race in a row that the pole winner has won the race. This is the first time this has happened since 1985. J.D., talk about what this win means, obviously a big run for Matt today, means to you.
J.D. GIBBS: All the victories are a huge deal, and it’s just fun to watch Matt and Jason, the way we relate together. And I’ve said it before, the work Jason does, it’s hard, long hours. Matt is probably once in a while at the shop, checks in. But what they do is just so difficult and they make it look easier than it actually is. So we just appreciate the way they work together, the personalities, and what they do for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q: Also joining them up here, Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No. 20. Jason, eighth in points now is where Matt stands, only 59 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Talk a little bit about that and being here today.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, yeah, that’s obviously good, right? On top of getting our second victory this year. We feel like we’ve run up front a lot this season, and we’ve had some finishes that I’m not going to say disappointing, but we felt like we’ve – we haven’t finished where we’ve been capable of finishing. To come out of here in the top 10 solid, not too far behind the leader with two wins under our belt at this point in the season is obviously very gratifying.
Q. Matt, you’re two for two on this new track. Is there something about the new surface, variable banking, et cetera, that just is a good fit for you? And this is the third straight win by a driver from the pole. Is that something because of the Gen-6 car, getting out in front or just is there a connection there?
MATT KENSETH: I don’t know about me and the racetrack. I think it’s really a credit to guys that bring me the race cars. That car has been really fast ever since we took it off the truck on Friday, and Jason has made great adjustments with it. TRD gives us really awesome engines, all those things are really what make it so fast is really the cars.
I like the track. Today is the first is the first day I’ve used the variable banking. The last Roush race I ran the bottom the whole time. Today it really widened out pretty good. I mean, it almost got almost three widths wide where you could move around find some of that. So I think the track is just going to continue to get better and get wider.
As far as winning from the pole, I mean, the fastest car is supposed to win, right? That’s what racing is all about. So I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence. I don’t think it really has anything to do with the cars the way everything worked out. But it’s not like all three of those races it’s not like the pole sitter went out and led every lap. Things happened. You got shuffled back, you had to pass cars. I mean for 400 miles or 500 miles, you’re not going to stay out front the whole time. But man, we had a good car. Everything worked out at the end. We were in the front for that last pit stop and was able to hold stationary and get out in clean air, so that was key.
Q. Is this why you wanted to come to Gibbs, what you’re doing now, and J.D., is this why you wanted Matt to be in the 20?
J.D. GIBBS: We’ve always wanted Matt here. That’s a good question. Matt, why did you?
MATT KENSETH: I’ll tell you, it had more to do with his dad than him. (Laughter.)
J.D. GIBBS: That’s actually a truthful statement.
MATT KENSETH: I mean, honestly the reasons were countless. I’m not going to get into them all, but it was just – I just knew it was the right place for me with the right group at the right time and all that stuff. So I mean, there just wasn’t – honestly I just knew there wasn’t any doubt. I just knew that that was where I needed to be and where I felt like I had the best chance to be the most successful.
Q. (No microphone.)
J.D. GIBBS: No, I think for us I think with Denny and Kyle, what they both like about Matt, I’ve said before, is they’ve kind of given him the leadership role, and Matt is happy to take it on. And so I think for us it’s just a great connection. Are you happy to take it on?
MATT KENSETH: I’m happy, I’m really happy. I was just giving you a funny look.
J.D. GIBBS: So I think it’s just watching all three guys walk in step, and they look to Matt and realize he has enough experience and he’s gifted behind the wheel. They listen to him, so it’s valuable when we have those meetings and those guys, whatever they say, everyone kind of picks up on and listens to.
Q. For Matt and Jason, the Roush team was the only organization that tested here. I think they tested, it was pretty cool temperatures. Do you think the warmer temperatures helped you, and does the fact that they tested here but aren’t in the top three, does that discount maybe – well, if one team tests at a track it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be dominant?
JASON RATCLIFF: They were fast today. When you looked at the cars that we raced around the majority of the time today, it was Roush cars. I think obviously the test paid off for them if they came a week or so ago. It was obviously beneficial. But like you said, the track conditions today were different than when they tested. They were even different than Friday when we unloaded.
You know, they were fast, and I think if the cautions would have fell a little differently and their pit strategy worked out differently, no doubt one or two of them would have been up there racing with us for the win.
Q. Matt, I heard you say out there you were talking about how this just feels like a dream, and I know that that’s kind of cliché, but –
MATT KENSETH: Living the dream, yeah.
Q. I know you felt really good about coming here but did you think it would be this quick? It appears that you guys are obviously established championship contenders just eight races in. Did it go better than you expected?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think it can always go better but things have been pretty good from a performance standpoint. I think as an organization one of our cars – if all the stars would have aligned — could have won every race this year if everything would have worked out. The only place I feel like we really kind of somewhat missed it was California and the 18 won there. Other than that we’ve had cars that have been capable of running in the top three or four every week.
Did I expect that? I kind of did. I’m not a guy – I’m usually a – I hate to say I’m a glass half empty guy, but instead of talking about it I like to do it and then talk about it. I don’t like to make predictions, I’m just not that guy.
But anyway, I couldn’t have had a better feeling about it all when I decided to do it, and certainly that feeling hasn’t changed. I feel like it’s really a special group. I think Jason is a special guy. It’s a special organization, and man, they’ve got some great race cars and TRD does a great job with the engines. They’ve got everything they need there to win races and championships.
Q. When you have to make a decision to go from one powerhouse team to another, and they both are, who do you go to or lean on for advice? Obviously your closest relatives but outside of your family who do you lean on for that kind of advice?
MATT KENSETH: Nobody. I didn’t talk to anybody about it except for Katie. Katie and I talked about it. She would never tell me what to do, necessarily pick for my profession. She would let me do that. But certainly she had a positive feeling about it, as well.
I didn’t really tell anybody else about it. I really didn’t need to. It wasn’t really a hard decision, believe it or not.
Q. Matt, as Kasey was closing in on you in the final laps, Chris was keeping you pretty well apprised of what line Kasey was running. Was that more so that if it came to it you could take away his line or were you still looking for a faster way around?
MATT KENSETH: No, once we got it within – once we got to probably 20 to go, that didn’t really matter. He was just trying to let me know where he was, how close he was, if he was getting a run off the top or whatever so I could kind of know where his momentum was or where he was stronger, that type of thing. But 20 to go when I started catching them lapped cars, I didn’t have much of a choice. I really thought I wanted to pass them all on the top, and that wasn’t such a great thought. I really messed up a couple laps real bad. I drove in behind the 47 once, and I thought he was going to the bottom and he went to the top and I was so committed I drove in behind him and pretty much had to stop and cost us about a second, that lap. And then from there on out, man, it was a lot of work. We were loose into Turn 3 and I felt like I just kept missing it and messing it up.
From that point on it really didn’t matter. I was more concerned about the cars in front of me, how I was going to get around the lap cars without losing very much momentum.
And earlier when he was telling me was mainly because in the beginning of the race, we were so fast, we started out front, I really just ran the bottom the whole time and I could see the track rubbering up, so I knew people were running other places. So I was really just trying to get information about where people were putting their cars that were running good because I knew that last run I wasn’t going to be able to just sit on the bottom and we weren’t going to win doing that. I knew there was more speed when I watch the 48 and some of them guys earlier in the race make some passes up there, so really just trying to figure that out to give Jason the best information I could to hopefully have the car like we needed it then.
Q. Jason, there’s a 59-point difference between you and Jimmie Johnson in first. Can you talk about what your strategy is over the course of events before you get to the Chase because right now they’ve got a tremendous advantage.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, right now for us it’s just getting to next week. It’s getting to Richmond, it’s getting to Talladega and doing the best we can to continue the progress that we’ve been making so far. I still feel like we have – yeah, we’re running well, and yes, we’re winning races and doing the things we need to do, but I feel like we have a lot of room to grow as far as our race car. I feel like there’s still a lot of speed to find to be a contender in the Chase, and I feel like the adjustments we make from not necessarily from practice to the race but throughout the race, these races are long. You can be fast for 300 miles and let the thing get away from you at the end. That’s what makes them so difficult.
So we have a lot of room to grow, which is good, considering that we’re – as well as we’re doing now. So we’re looking forward to it, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Q. Matt, I know you’re acclimated and everything at Joe Gibbs Racing, but is it still weird when you’re racing for the lead with Stenhouse in the car that you drove here for a win last October?
MATT KENSETH: Actually, no, not at all. Joe would be the first one to tell you the car is his because he has to spend all the money on it, but I really don’t. I don’t really even – I really don’t even – it doesn’t really even cross my mind honestly. I feel like the 20 car is my car, and I don’t really think about that that much anymore, and I’ll certainly – I’ve got some friends over there and stuff like that, and you like to see them guys do good and you stop and say hi and that kind of stuff, but I don’t think about that being my old car or anything like that anymore.
Q. Winning with a group that hasn’t won a whole lot, do you notice that – does winning mean more to them than maybe teams that have won a lot and win a lot?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don’t know how long everybody on teams are, but there’s a lot of guys on that team from when Tony was there and won championships. I don’t know how many races you guys won with Tony, but it was a lot. It was a total bigger than I’ll ever get to. A lot of them guys are used to winning, and certainly it was Jason’s first year in Cup last year, and he won a race and he certainly won a lot of races in every other kind of racing that he’s done.
I don’t know, I’ve never won a race with a team that wasn’t pretty darned excited to win. I think we’re all really excited to win. These things are really hard to win, and man, you’ve got to enjoy them when it happens because you don’t know if you’re ever going to get another one or when another one is going to come. I think you really enjoy it today, and tomorrow we’ll go talk about Kansas and get ready to go to Richmond.
Q. Going back to what J.D. said about how Kyle and Denny had given you the leadership role and you were happy to take it on, knowing that you didn’t talk to anybody else –
MATT KENSETH: You said I was happy to take it on?
Q. That’s what he said, I’ve got it right here.
J.D. GIBBS: He took it on.
Q. The quote was Matt’s happy to take it on. You didn’t talk to anybody ahead of this move; did you just know that they were going to be – I guess did you just expect that they would kind of defer to you and you would become the team leader and did you look forward to that?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don’t know that I’m the team leader or necessarily want to be or whatever. But I will say I think there’s a ton of things that intrigue me about all this, but having Denny and Kyle as teammates is one thing that also really intrigued me. I’ve been fortunate through my whole career to have a lot of really, really talented, good teammates, but one of the things I thought was so interesting and pretty much proven true is that Denny and Kyle are very different from each other and they’re both very different from me. I think we all have different personalities, we all have a different approach to things, we all have a different way we handle things. It’s all different. And I think that’s good.
I think if you have all your teammates and you all think the same thing and you all want the same thing, I don’t think you get everybody’s potential, I don’t think you get everything out there. There’s no different viewpoints to consider and to think about and to look at or a different setup or idea or a different approach to driving the racetrack. That was really interesting, and I think we’ve been doing a good job of working together and talking about things, and certainly it’s a little different here with Denny missing the last few weeks and hopefully he gets back soon. But I think it’s really helped me become a better driver, really elevates your game when you have guys like that that can go out and win any week.
Q. You’re always so calm when you get in here, but the last 10 laps or so, even at Vegas and here, you’re like screaming “get out of the way” and telling everybody – I don’t know if it was your spotter or Jason saying I’ve got to get my heart to settle down, I don’t know if I can take this. Do you get transformed when you get in those situations?
MATT KENSETH: I mean, some of that – the races were very different. They were both really hard to win, but my car was just too tight at Vegas, so for me all I had to do is not miss the corner entry and the rest was kind of easy to drive. This was not easy to drive the last 20 laps, so if I missed the corner and I missed Turn 3 three or four times, I thought besides getting beat, I might wreck. It was a lot of – I hate to call driving race cars work, but it was a lot more work the last 20 laps here than it was at Vegas.
Some of that stuff, you get in there and honestly, all the lap cars and everything are so respectful and they give you so much room, and they’re racing to stay on the lead lap and for position, as well. At Vegas I didn’t have that problem, but here my car was just really sensitive to where other cars were that were in front of me and had a really bad effect on my car when I had it in certain places, so I was really trying to figure that out and then trying to get with Chris to kind of change things up. I thought I wanted to be on the top and I just kept getting so loose. So I was just – everybody always, they communicate up on the spotter’s stand and I was just trying to tell him I’d rather take the bottom the last few laps.
Sometimes you get excited, and I don’t know what makes a driver push the button so everybody can hear it, but sometimes you just get excited and you know there’s nothing they can do about it, but you still want to yell about it or ask anyway.