Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT
Tools Taurus, is coming off a second-place finish in Sunday's Sylvania 300
and is currently in fourth place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Kenseth,
who is 10 points behind leaders Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kurt Busch,
answered questions during the weekly NNC teleconference.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus - YOU HAD A GOOD RUN
SUNDAY. "It was good to get everything together and not make any mistakes.
Robbie did a great job of calling the race and got us in a good position
at the end of the race, so that was great to get out of Loudon with a
second-place finish. We had a great car at Richmond - actually a car I
thought we could have won the race with and left the wrench in on a pit
stop, so that was tough to take. In California we didn't run that good. We
pitted under green and the caution came out so we lost that lap at the
end, so it felt good to get a good finish and to do things right and get
some momentum going."
IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING OF FINALITY NOW THAT IT'S DOWN TO 10 RACES
AND 10 DRIVERS? "We were in a pretty good position all year, where we were
in the points, and it was really different the first 26 races. There was a
lot less stress and when you had a bad day, it was still a bad day and
you're mad you finished 22nd, but it wasn't nothing like what it was last
year trying to go for the season-long championship. When you had a bad day
last year, it would eat you up inside. You couldn't sleep at night and it
was real hard to take, whereas this year, so far, up to this point it
hasn't been that bad. Now the last 10 races will be that bad because all
the points count toward the championship, but going to Loudon, to me, felt
like it was the second week of the year and those top 10 guys got off to a
decent start at Daytona. It just feels like it's early in the year and
everybody is real close in points. That's kind of what it feels like right
DO YOU LIKE IT OR NOT? "It's OK. It's different. I enjoyed the traditional
way of going for it all year and having to pay for a mistake in April is
the same as October. That was cool, but I could see how that would maybe
get a little boring for people if the points race was real spread out like
it is in the Busch Series. Right now it's pretty spread out and it's not
really that interesting to watch if you're not part of it and I understand
that. I think this has definitely created a lot more interest than I
thought it would and it was real exciting at Richmond watching the battle
for the 10th position to make the cut for the chase. That was exciting.
Everybody is real close in points right now, so I think that'll be
exciting till the end of the year for everybody."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE CHASE IN THE BUSCH OR TRUCK SERIES? "I don't
know. It doesn't really matter that much to me. I think that this deal
seems to be working pretty good and better than I think a lot of people
probably thought it would be, so I think it's something they'll probably
look at. I know they didn't do it right away because they didn't want a
Nextel Cup driver that's running a partial schedule to go there and run
good enough to be in that top 10 and then be able to run the last 10 races
and go for a championship. They want to leave that to the Busch guys who
are running all year, which they should, so if they can figure out a way
to do that - to discourage people like myself who runs a 15-20 race
program - to bump that up to 25 races and still have a chance for a
championship, if they can figure out how to make that not happen, I think
it would definitely make it a little more exciting."
WOULDN'T IT BE INTERESTING TO SEE ONE DRIVER IN TWO CHASES, LIKE BIFFLE?
"It would be interesting and that's what he was trying to do this year. He
was trying to run for the championship in both series, but it's tough to
do it the season-long way, but it would be much easier to do it with just
having to run the last 10 races when you make some mistakes early in the
year. I don't know if that's good or bad. Everybody's got mixed emotions.
Half the people like to see you run Busch races and be involved in it and
the other half get all over you because they say you shouldn't be there
racing with those guys. I still think the championship should go to the
guys who put all their effort into running the Busch Series and making
that their living."
HOW HAS YOUR OPINION CHANGED ABOUT THIS CHASE? "I'm a guy whose kind of a
traditionalist and I generally don't like change, no matter what it is.
Plus, we won it last year and no matter what you do or how good you do,
there's always gonna be criticism over something you do no matter what it
is. There was some criticism about winning one race and being so far ahead
in the points and all that stuff, so you kind of take that to heart a
little bit or whatever. I wasn't really for it in the beginning. I can't
say that I'm still 100 percent for it, but being a part of it and being
involved with it and with 10 races to go being up there only 10 points
from the lead, that part of it feels good. We were able to make some
mistakes and still get our points back at the end of the year, so in the
position that we're in, it feels good. Now if we had a 400-point lead and
they would have taken it all away with 10 to go, it probably wouldn't feel
as good as it does right now."
WHAT IS THE SENSE IN THE GARAGE ABOUT HOW THIS IS DEVELOPING? "I don't
really know the answer to that question. I haven't really talked to that
many people about it. There wasn't many people in the garage who liked it
when it came out. I think there's a lot of people who warmed up to it
somewhat, including myself, as it's gone on and as they've seen how it's
worked. I don't know. That's not really a conversation I've had with
anybody lately, so I'm not really sure."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE FORGOTTEN MAN THE LAST TWO OR THREE MONTHS? "I'm sort
of used to that. Even last year, we led the points almost all year and it
was all the way until after the July Daytona race before anyone really
noticed or said much about it. That's fine with me. I'd rather have the
spotlight on somebody else and the attention somewhere else. I think it
helps us do our job. I don't think it distracts me or the crew or any of
the team guys, or Robbie or anything as much when they're not really
talking much about it. The best thing to do is to try to win it and after
you win or do something, the people are gonna remember and they're gonna
talk about it. We have to prove we're worthy of that. All season we've
been running decent, but we've been very up and down. We haven't looked
like we were gonna be consistent enough and run good enough to have a shot
at the championship, so, first, we've got to go out and do our job and try
to win some races and finish good these last 10 and put ourselves in
position to try to win it again. Then we'll see if we were worthy of it or
IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THOSE WHO SAY IF DALE EARNHARDT, JR. HAD WON LAST
YEAR THAT THIS SYSTEM WOULDN'T BE IN PLACE TODAY? "I have no idea. I don't
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BIFFLE-GORDON INCIDENT AND DOES IT CHANGE
HOW PEOPLE WOULD ACT ON THE TRACK? "First of all, I haven't seen the
incident. It was behind me on the track both times. I haven't watched a
bit of TV. I haven't seen any articles. I don't have any idea about
anything that really happened between them two, so I can't comment on that
situation at all. But as far as the question about being concerned about
being taken out by somebody when you're racing for the championship, 43
people show up on the race track every Sunday and they're all racing for a
win and they all have just as much a right to be out there, whether you're
40th in points or whether you're first in points. So getting caught up in
somebody else's mess is part of racing. Yeah, let's hope it doesn't
happen, but the fact is that it does happen once in a while. Watch the
Daytona or Talladega race. A lot of people get caught up in other people's
messes, so that's part of racing. There's no one person on the track that
deserves more real estate on the race track than any other person. You
need to race everybody the same and however you race them is probably how
you're gonna get raced back, no matter where you are in the points."
A LOT OF GUYS NOT IN THE CHASE ARE TIRED OF THAT QUESTION. "Yeah, I don't
think it's gonna be any different. I just don't think it's any different
now or it should be any different. Us being the point leader last year, I
mean, they didn't go into driver's meetings and say, 'Hey, be careful
around the 17. He's leading the points.' They never said that in the
driver's meeting once all year, so I don't think that they should go into
the driver's meeting now and say, 'Be careful how you race around these 10
cars.' We're not special just because where we are. Everybody has the
right to be out there trying to win the race."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SCANNER COMMUNICATION BEING AIRED ON TV? "I hate
it. I've always hated it. I think it's cool that the fans get to listen to
it, but I don't like saying something and then it gets broadcast on TV and
maybe you're embarrassed about it later. We're out there running as fast
as we can - on the edge - and things happen and you say things in the heat
of the moment that you're not thinking about saying to everybody else.
You're thinking about saying to your crew chief and a couple of guys on
the crew and to have millions of people listening to that is sometimes
difficult. It used to be they had to ask permission to broadcast and now
they just broadcast anything, so I don't like that. You definitely have to
think about what you say more, but I understand why they do it. It's
entertainment and people want to hear it."
IT'S MY UNDERSTANDING YOU CAN REQUEST THAT IT NOT BE PUT ON AIR? "Oh, I
don't know. I don't about that. You used to be able to, but I don't know
if you can anymore or not."
DID LAST DECEMBER IN NEW YORK SEEM LIKE 10 YEARS AGO OR HAS IT FLOWN BY?
"Actually, it seems like yesterday. We were in New York last week doing
some media stuff for the top 10 for NASCAR and when we were out there it
seemed like it was just last week that we were up there for the
championship. I don't know, the older I get it seems like the faster time
goes by but it seems like it was just yesterday we were up there."
WAS NEW YORK FUN LAST WEEK? "It was alright (laughing). There were other
things I would have rather been doing, let me put it that way."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GIVE JACK HIS FIRST TITLE AND TO BE ONE OF THREE WITH
A CHANCE THIS YEAR? ARE THE ODDS IN HIS FAVOR? "No, I don't think so. I
think Jack's kind of a pessimist. I don't think he expects to win anything
until after he's won it. He usually expects something to go wrong. Right
now, we've got great race teams and great sponsors over at Roush. We've
got great equipment with Doug Yates doing the motors. They're just
unbelievable and that's really helped our program a lot. Right now, we've
got good equipment, so when you have good stuff, you have to take
advantage of it and try to run good with it and all the teams have done a
pretty good job of that this year."
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THESE RACES? "I think everybody on the
track has an equal opportunity to race. I don't think that the top 10
should be treated any different than 11th through 43rd. Those guys all
have a right to race. They all show up to try to win the race and we're
not anymore important than those guys are. It's all about racing and
trying to win the race and I don't think that you should be raced any
different no matter where you are in the points. However you race people
and they raced you all year, and you raced them all year, that should
continue through the end of the year."
WOULD THEY BE TEMPTED TO RACE CONSERVATIVELY? "No. I'd like to strap you
in there and have you run a few laps because the people who said we were
even being conservative last year is just hogwash. It's so competitive
that you can't run conservatively. I mean, if you run conservatively,
you're gonna run 25th or 30th. It's tough to go out there and run in the
top 10 and run up front and even tougher to win races. I mean, anybody can
see that looking through the stats. Jeff Gordon used to win 13 races a
year and now he wins anywhere from three to five and it's just that much
more competitive. There's more winners. The cars are more close to the
same speed than what they've ever been. There's more rules than what
they've ever been and it's tough to run good every week, so you've got to
go out and run hard. You've got to try to be smart and not put yourself in
a bad position, but you need to go out and run hard every week and try to
finish as high as you can."
WOULD IT SEEM LIKE A BIGGER ACHIEVEMENT TO WIN IT AT HOMESTEAD THIS YEAR
AS OPPOSED TO LAST YEAR WHEN YOU ALREADY HAD CLINCHED? "I definitely don't
think it would be a bigger achievement if we can do it, and I don't think
we need to be vindicated for anything. I think we had a great year last
year. Yeah, we only won one race, but it's tough to win races. The year
before we won five races, which was a series high. I think that it's tough
to win a championship no matter what format it's under, but I feel like
last year, with the way it was setup, to have that pressure each and every
week for 36 weeks and not be able to break and not be able to have trouble
and do all those things, I think was pretty tough for us to accomplish. I
don't think anything will ever top that. If we win another championship,
that'll be great and we're gonna be happy about it and it'll be awesome if
we could win it under both formats, but nothing we accomplish, I don't
think, will ever be like accomplishing that first championship."
WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET AT HOMESTEAD LAST YEAR? "It was a little bit more
relaxing because we didn't have to worry about the points, but, at the
same time, it was very frustrating and disappointing that we blew up
before even our first pit stop. That was pretty disappointing and kind of
took the wind out of our sails for the celebration afterwards and all
that, but we just went down there and approached it like we'd approach any
other race. We wanted to go down there and try to win and go down there
and run the best we could."
WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES IN THE LAST NINE RACES? "You never know. I mean,
you can go to a track that you think you run good at and have trouble and
not run good. But if I had to look over the schedule, I'd say that Dover
is one of my favorite tracks, but our results haven't been there lately
but I think we'll do OK there. Martinsville has been a real struggle for
us, but they re-did the track so you never know what you're gonna there
until we get up there. But I would say Martinsville, Darlington and
Talladega are the three that I probably worry about the most. At
Martinsville, we haven't run good at the last couple of years. At
Talladega, anything can happen. You can get a good finish or you can get
caught up in a wreck and finish last. You just don't know what's gonna
happen there. And Darlington is one of my favorites, but we don't have the
results there lately. We haven't run that good, so those are probably the
three that we'd probably be the weakest at."
YOUR TEAM HAS REMAINED CONSISTENT THIS YEAR AFTER WINNING THE TITLE. WHY?
"Because all of the same people are there, I think. Nothing has really
changed. We've stepped up our motor program and we've got better stuff
than what we've had before and we haven't lost any people, so I think that
was one of the most important things. A lot of teams, after a championship
year, will lose some personnel and not have the same group together and
we've been able to keep that same group together so I think that's
probably a pretty big reason."
WHY IS QUALIFYING SO DIFFERENT FOR YOU THAN THE RACE? "If I knew the
answer to that question, I'd fix it right away. I don't know. We put a lot
of effort into it, but I just must be no good at it. I don't know. Maybe
we try too hard. I don't know what it is, but that's always been a
weakness of mine, even since I started in the Busch Series, although we
had a few poles over there a few years ago. But that's always been a
struggle for me. We work on it, but whenever we test, we always test in
race trim and we always almost focus all of our energy on the race because
that's all that really matters. But it feels like if we could qualify
better, we could collect more bonus points and be closer to the leaders
and have yourself in better track position throughout the race. But it's
just been tough. I don't know. We sure try hard at it. While we're at the
track we work on it for two hours on Friday and go try to get the best lap
I can, it just always seems like we always come up pretty short."
WAS IT KEY TO HAVE QUALIFYING RAINED OUT LAST WEEK? "We always kind of
joke about it because if we ever start farther forward than 17th, it seems
like we have problems and things don't turn out our way. We fell back
there in the beginning anyway and lost some of our track position, but we
never did get all the way in the back on Sunday. So I think it helps when
you start up front, but, for us, it doesn't seem to make a big difference.
But when you're in front of most of the cars, you obviously have less
chance of getting in a wreck or getting tore up, so it's important to
start up front but we just can't seem to be able to do it very good."
HOW NICE IS IT TO HAVE TWO TEAMMATES IN THE TOP 10? "That's good and
that's good for the whole company. It's not just about the 17, it's about
the 97 and the 6 trying to run for a championship. We're trying to figure
things out and work on things together, which should help all of us, and
for the company that's a good thing that three of us are in there and have
a shot at it."
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft
Taurus, has four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories at Dover International
Speedway, site of this weekend's MBNA America 400. Rudd was also one of
this week's guests on the NNC teleconference.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus - WHY HAS DOVER BEEN SO GOOD
TO YOU? "I'm not really sure why that is. It's just one of those tracks
that you go to over the years and it seems like you can always pretty much
count on a pretty good run when we go to Dover and I really don't have a
reason why that is. I enjoy driving the race track. I know back when it
used to be 500 miles a lot of guys used to dread that track and I always
enjoyed it. I enjoy the track layout. It's not far from where I grew up, a
couple hundred miles away from Chesapeake, so I don't really have the
answers but I have enjoyed the success there."
IS THERE A MENTAL THING ABOUT DOVER OR ANY OTHER TRACK WHERE YOU'VE HAD
SUCCESS? "I don't really think so. I think it just has to do with the race
track and it's a little unusual compared to a lot of the race tracks we
run. It's a mile track and you have to get in the corner real good there.
You don't use much brake. It's a track that sort of unique to itself and I
don't really think you're anymore relaxed going into Dover or anymore
tense for that reason. Again, it's a fun race track for me to drive, it
always has been. Maybe some of the guys over past years, when it was 500
miles, maybe got caught up in the hype of the Monster Mile. It's a tough
race track. It's not very forgiving. If you make a mistake, usually it's
not a situation where you just brushed the wall there. Usually, you do a
lot of damage. Like I say, it's been pretty kind to me over the years.
There's a lot of steepness in the straightaways, so if you do have an
accident it usually carries you to the inside wall and you don't generally
get a second chance at Dover."
ASSESS YOUR SEASON? "The early part of the season or three quarters of the
season was really spent sort of floundering around. Our superspeedway
program was pretty right on, especially for qualifying. We had a pole at
Talladega and I think a third in the July race at Daytona - big qualifying
efforts but not a whole lot there with the race situation. I think we've
only got one top-10 finish this year and that was at a road course at
Watkins Glen, so up until about three or four races ago, there's really
not a whole lot there to get excited about with the exception of recently.
We've seen big progress since Michael "Fatback" McSwain showed up. We
don't have the finishing results, but the on-track performance has
definitely taken a huge improvement."
IS THAT RELATIONSHIP THE KEY TO SUCCESS? "I think the key is whatever
you've got to do to get results. With Fatback and myself, we've always
been able to get results. Again, as far as things, you don't really have
all the right answers but the chemistry just seems to be there. He really
seems to understand when I tell him what the car is doing. He's very good
at understanding the way I relate to what the car is doing. Maybe because
he was a former driver, he ran some modified or local dirt races and
pavement races, so he understands probably from a driver's perspective a
lot better than some of the crew chiefs that are out there. But the bottom
line is when I can go out there and run on the race track and say, 'Well,
the car is a little loose or a little tighter on the entrance to the
corner,' we go faster. Well, very seldom ever do we go back out after
adjustments get made that the car doesn't respond. He usually seems to go
and works and fixes the area that we needed help in. That's a pretty
welcome relief and a pretty good communication thing to have going to be
able to get those results. We unloaded at New Hampshire and weren't
particularly good off the trailer. Fatback was not at the first Loudon
race, so he didn't have a notebook to go off of too much and we went out
and ran. It wasn't long right before qualifying that we got the car dialed
in and we were seventh-fastest on the speed charts going into qualifying.
So it's back to that communication and knowing how to quickly adjust. A
lot of that is coming without testing. We have not been able to test
because the team has been behind getting cars built and trying to get
things understood what we actually have in the shop - how they're built -
so Fatback knows how to adjust them. So most of that time has been spent
in a productive way learning what we've got there in the shop."
WHEN DO YOU KNOW TO GET STARTED FOR 2005? "I honestly give Eddie Wood a
pat on the back for patience. Eddie's a little more patient than I am, I
guess. The results just weren't coming and things weren't really clicking
there. I think knowing that there's no possible way to make that top 10
cutoff, and in this day and time, if you're not in the top 10, you might
as well pull over and just either sit out and come back next year or go to
work on your program and try to get it where you come out of the box
powerful for the next season. Obviously, you don't have the option of
sitting out the rest of the year and it wouldn't make a lot of sense
anyway, but use this time to get your ducks in a row for next year because
one thing I've noticed is that it's so competitive now that you can't
really come out of the box and have a problem and overcome it and probably
still make it into the top 10 in points. In years past, you pretty much
have been able to do that, so I think not only our team but a lot of teams
have elected to use the rest of this year to rebuild their program and to
come out of the box strong for 2005."
WHAT OTHER TRACKS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO? "We've got Martinsville
coming up and that's gonna be the first time we run one of Fatback's cars
that was built from the ground up. So we're kind of anxious to look at
that. We've always had good cars at Martinsville and Fatback has had
exceptionally good cars at Martinsville. He ran very well there with Bobby
Labonte, I think, early in the year and he's always run well there, so I'm
looking forward to that race. But you've got a lot of races coming up.
Phoenix is a good one and the list goes on. To tell you the truth, I sort
of look at it one weekend at a time and don't get caught up in it too
much. But this coming weekend, up at Dover it has obviously been a good
one for us. I'm gonna be a lot more excited once I get the new chassis in
HOW HAS NEXTEL MADE AN IMPACT THIS YEAR? "I think it's gone pretty
smoothly, really. I guess that's a good thing not to see any major hiccups
in the situation, which I'm sure there are a lot of things that have
probably happened behind the scenes that as competitors we haven't seen.
I'm still trying to learn all the faces over there with the Nextel group.
That's gonna take some time, I guess, but things are quite a bit different
with the new system and the way they've got it in place."
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT? "I was talking just mainly about the points battle.
There's a lot of pressure to make that top 10 cut and from here on out
that's pretty much all you're gonna hear is that top 10 battle. That's
quite a bit different and I don't think that's really meant in a negative
way towards Nextel, it's just the way the points situation works out if
you're not in the top 10. It's kind of bad for your sponsor if you go out
and win every race over the rest of the season and not too many people
would know about it."
HOW DO WE KNOW IT'S NEXTEL AND NOT WINSTON ANYMORE? "I guess probably the
biggest thing for me is the colors are different. You've got the yellow
and black of Nextel and the red and white. I guess there's still some of
that red and white paint left around. I see a lot of the walls are still
painted red and white, so a lot of people are still using that Winston
paint on the walls, but the Nextel towers that you see around the race
track. Besides that, really, from the competitors view, it's operating
pretty well. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. The transition has been
ANY IDEA ABOUT THE ENGINE PROBLEM SUNDAY? "I have not heard back yet.
Obviously, it's pretty terminal and I'm not really sure what happened.
It's sort of unfortunate. I think we were the only ones there, I believe,
that had a motor problem the other day, but it's been rare. We've had
really good motors all year long. I guess you're always gonna be due for
an engine failure. That just happens. It's unfortunate because we were
having a good day. It couldn't have happened the first three quarters of
the season when it would have just pretty much put us out of our misery,
but we actually had a top-five or top-10 run going the other day."
DO YOU BELIEVE WINNING RACES WILL GET SOME ATTENTION? "I think, for sure,
it's kind of hard to skip over you if you actually go out and win a race,
but I still wouldn't expect - and I think everyone understands what the
playing field is now if you're not in that top 10. It's gonna be pretty
hard to get your sponsors press at this time for the rest of the year.
It's gonna be real hard. I know TV is very biased toward the top 10 and
they sort of forget about the rest of the crowd there regardless of what
you're doing on the race track and that's sort of unfortunate. Sponsors in
this sport spend a lot of money to get recognized. That's one reason
they're out there, but the new format just doesn't lend itself to that. We
pretty much knew that going in when the season started, I think everybody
did and that's just the way it is."
YOU'RE GOING TO BE RACING HARD AND TRYING TO WIN THESE LAST NINE RACES,
RIGHT? "Exactly. Every team out there has their own set of goals and
priorities of what they're trying to accomplish the rest of the year. A
lot of them, when I say experimenting, they're gonna come to that race
track with the very best equipment they can possibly bring. Yeah, there
may be some rolling of the dice, maybe, that would not have happened if
the top-10 points thing wasn't really locked in at this point. If you're
outside of that top 10, again, our goals might be a little different from
the rest of the group because we haven't been competitive on the race
track like we've needed to be, so there might be a little more
experimentation with us than maybe some of the other guys. It really
depends on how far off your program is. There are some guys that finished
just outside of the top 10 that they had momentum and they were coming,
they just didn't quite make it happen with the right breaks at the right
time in that cutoff point before Richmond. But some of these guys have got
their program together and they don't really need to do a whole lot of
anything. Where, on the other hand, there's quite a few guys that are not
as competitive as they need to be and they're working on that very hard.
Again, the best thing that we could possibly accomplish between here and
the rest of the season is to run well, run top-10s and top-fives and, if
you happen to get your act together really good, you can slip in there and
win one of these things. Again, our goals aren't any different. We're just
working very hard to get the Motorcraft Ford back on competitive par."
WERE YOU BLINDSIDED ABOUT THIS NEW POINT SYSTEM AND WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL
THOUGHTS? "I'm open-minded - you have to be this day and time. You never
know, really, in this sport what's gonna happen behind the scenes.
Television nowadays dictates, really, what goes on, in my opinion. It's
more about making sure they get the best TV ratings they can so they can
sell some advertising time. Is the program exciting, I don't know. We'll
have to wait and see and see what the fans say, but from what I can see,
there is definitely a lot of interest and a lot of interest in the sport,
especially right around the Richmond race. It was pretty interesting to
watch the guys that were just outside the top 10 trying to get in, like
Jeremy came from four or five spots back to get into that top 10. And
there had to be some heartbreaks with guys that didn't make the top 10, so
there are a lot of stories there that took place right around the Richmond
race. What happens over the next nine races, we'll have to see if they can
keep it exciting for the next nine races left in the season. But it does
have some subplots that maybe normally weren't there. As a competitor, it
definitely makes you feel sort of an outsider looking in, but, by the same
token, most of the people on the outside looking in didn't run well enough
to make the cut, so there's really not a lot of excuses. We just have to
get running better, but it definitely makes you feel like you don't want
to be out of that top 10."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BRIAN FRANCE TAKING OVER? "It's definitely a
season full of changes. I think the bottom line is we'll wait and see.
It's not so much what that competitors think about it. The rules have
always been massaged a little here, a little there and you still go out
there. The bottom line is if you go out there on the race track and run
good and win races, the rest of the things will sort of take care of
itself and that has not changed. I think the real test will be looking in
those grandstands when the season starts to wind down. If you see a bunch
of empty seats, then things aren't going real well. If you see the seats
filled up, then I'd say things are going very well and, to me, that ought
to be the report card."
IS THIS THE MOST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN? "I really can't think of any year.
For many years things just sort of went along and the adage was, 'Don't
try to fix something that's not broke.' I think that was pretty much the
plan for many years and racing has grown. It's grown each year to a higher
level and now we're into a lot of changes. I don't know if you can tell
right away. I think time will tell whether or not it's successful or not,
but one thing I guess I've learned about Brian France and his group is
that if it doesn't work and it's not successful, then you can expect some
changes to redo the program to try to get it successful. So it doesn't
seem to be written in stone and there are some creative people behind the
scenes trying to think up better ideas to make this sport better. In that
respect, I think we're in good hands."
THOUGHTS ON SCANNER TRAFFIC AND POSSIBLY BEING AIRED? "I think as far as
from a competitor's standpoint, you realize you're being monitored. That
doesn't always sink in sometimes when you're in the heat of the battle or
you've got a problem and you're trying to work through how to handle that
issue. You're not really thinking about the millions of people that
possibly could be listening in. You realize people at the race track have
scanners and they're gonna be listening in, but where do you separate the
entertainment value? I know a lot of people are very interested and the
fans are very knowledgeable of our sport today. I think they would feel
very shut out if they were not allowed to scan and listen in on your
channels. Do I agree with TV kind of tapping in and listening in on
inopportune times? I think they could be a little more discreet about it.
There are conversations a lot of times that probably don't need to be
heard, but by the same token those are the public airwaves, so what are
you gonna do about it?"
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FANS AT THE TRACK HEARING IT AND THOSE ON
TV? "That's a good question. I guess a lot of teams still scan each other.
At one time teams were going to scrambled frequencies and I don't know if
that's even allowed anymore. I guess in a lot of ways there's really no
difference, I reckon is what you're saying and I can kind of see your
point. If fans can listen to it at the race track, why can't the fans at
home be privileged to that? I guess that's where certain things should be
private, but I kind of contradicted myself. If people in the stands can
hear it, then they should be able to hear it at home. I guess if I had my
way, all the frequencies would be scrambled and it wouldn't be public
information. I'll get a lot of hate mail about that, but, to me, that's
the race team's strategy. That's like sitting in on a business meeting. I
don't necessarily agree with it. I definitely agree that it adds value to
the entertainment side of it."
IS THERE A HAPPY MEDIUM? "I don't know how to answer that. As drivers,
we've got to be very careful about what we say on the radio as far as
censorship. It's always pretty much been that way, but now it's even more
so important. If you happen to slip, a driver could very well end up with
a one or two million dollar fine if you're not careful on what he says in
the heat of battle on his radio. That's why every driver would prefer to
have his channel scrambled, I think."
CAN YOU RACE THE SAME WAY IF THE CHASE ISN'T ON? "I think so. The only
difference, when you get down late in the season and NASCAR is very good
about this, and I've been a receiver of this is at the driver's meeting a
lot of times in the last two or three races it actually almost gets
comical. I remember the comments being made over the years. 'If anybody
runs in and knocks one of the top two or three guys out of the way that's
running for the points championship, you better go find the other two and
knock them out of the way, too, because we don't want it to be decided by
another competitor being able to purposely take another competitor out.'
You've got 10 guys now running for this championship. You can't pull over
and let those 10 just go race. Somewhere along the way you've got to do
your normal thing. If you're normally aggressive and you're outside of the
top 10, I think you've got to continue to be aggressive. You're just gonna
have to be smart aggressive it looks like. You have to be very aware that
those guys are running in the top 10 and you don't want to change that
outcome. By the same token, you can't be bullied either, so if somebody in
the top 10 starts an incident, they need to expect that they don't have a
carte blanche credit card to do whatever they want also."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BIFFLE-GORDON ISSUE AND WHETHER IT'S APPROPRIATE TO
PAY SOMEBODY BACK RIGHT AWAY. "I've always had a crew chief or my spotter
tell me not to forget the big picture. I don't really know what happened
the other day with Robby Gordon and Biffle and that bunch, but there's a
time to handle it and there's time not to. It's sort of a selfish time to
handle it if you decide to handle an issue and you take other innocent
bystanders with you. The fight was between, I understand, Robby Gordon and
Greg Biffle. First of all, there's no one who comes out and says, 'You've
got to settle this anyway,' but if you do settle it, you don't need to
involve innocent bystanders. In this case, it took out some of the top
point guys. That didn't need to happen. If Robby felt he was compelled to
take action, it didn't have to happen right away. It could have happened
later on. It could have happened a few races from now or whatever, but a
little thought needs to be going into that where you don't take other
MATT SAID EARLIER THERE SHOULDN'T BE WARNINGS. "Where do you draw the
line? If NASCAR says, 'OK, these top 10 are racing for the points,' well
the rest of us might as well pull over to the curb and let 'em go - let 'em
go race, but it might be kind of boring with 10 cars out there running
around chasing each other every week. So somewhere there's a fine line
there and the way I look at it is you race like you do every week. Those
guys that are gonna give you a cheap shot, those guys are gonna continue
to do it. That's not gonna stop them, but most of the problems you see on
a race track is just people racing each other very hard and someone slips.
That's usually what causes an accident. Occasionally, a guy will get
impatient and shove somebody out of the way. To me, the way I look at it
is if you're in the top 10 and you get impatient and shove somebody, you
ought to expect to be shoved back."
WAS TWO LAPS A FAIR PENALTY FOR ROBBY AND DOES NASCAR HAVE TO SET THAT
PRECEDENT? "I can only say that it's a lot different now than it was five
or 10 years ago and I think that's part of the problem. There's not a
strong enough hammer that comes down nowadays. If you are sitting there
listening to a guy, maybe he was dealt a cheap shot or maybe it was an
accident, but where I was always put in my place was if someone comes on
your radio - and you've got to figure everybody is listening - and they
blatantly hear you come out and say, 'I'm gonna go out and take this guy
out,' and you do it, then how stupid can you be? NASCAR ought to take
whoever - and to answer your question, two laps is not enough. If a guy
blatantly takes somebody out on purpose for revenge, the rule was they'd
pull you into the pits and sit you down for maybe 15-20 laps and maybe not
even let you go out and race the rest of the race. That was the way it was
for years and everybody sort of understood the penalty box, but it just
seems like there really isn't much of one anymore."
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