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Kenseth and Roush Q&A session

 

November 19, 2004

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Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush held a Q&A session in the Homestead Miami Speedway infield media center prior to Saturday's two practice sessions and discussed a variety of issues.

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Taurus - DO YOU CONSIDER THIS YEAR A SUCCESS? "I think the first two-thirds of the season, at least until probably June or July, was a success. We started off real strong out of the box. I was able to win a couple of races, win the all-star race, and it seemed like we had some momentum. But shortly thereafter we just haven't done as good of a job for whatever reason. I made some mistakes as a driver that got us behind and we made mistakes as a team that we typically don't make and it hasn't really been that great of an end of the year, especially the last six or seven weeks have been pretty bad. So, hopefully, we can turn it around this weekend and get our stuff going again for next year."

JACK ROUSH, Car Owner - No. 17 DEWALT Taurus - DO YOU CONSIDER THIS YEAR A SUCCESS? "I'm not a Jayski watcher, but when I heard that Jayski had come up with the notion that NASCAR was gonna revise the point system and basically wipe out the lead that Matt had last year with 10 races to go and start over within 50 points, I normally don't call Mike Helton on a Monday, but I made an exception and I called him on Monday. I said, 'Mike, I don't know what you're thinking. We've got a brand new Taurus. We haven't had a revision to our Taurus since '97. Our engine is dated. We haven't had a cylinder consideration since '92 and you've let Chevrolet revise theirs twice and gave Dodge everything that the Chevrolet had when they came on the scene. We haven't lost any people on our 17 team. I don't know what you were thinking. We're gonna put five of these Roush cars in the top 10 and you're gonna say we're predatory.' So it was my goal and my expectation with our new Taurus and our new engine program and our new cylinder head, and coming off Matt and Robbie's momentum from last year, that we would do better than the three. I look at what some of the other major well-funded teams have done, I didn't mean to say major in the sense except for the fact they've got adequate funding and good people working on it, but you look at how some of the other teams have fared that have the same access to resources that we do, I guess we've done OK. But it's not enough for me."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED - YOU MIGHT PASS THE TORCH TO KURT ON SUNDAY. THOUGHTS? "Sunday is gonna be an interesting race and Kurt has done a really good job all these last 10 weeks of handling that pressure and doing good with what he's given. When he had his problem at Atlanta, that would have been an easy time for him to snap and lose his head and not do well, but he's done a great job handling that pressure and staying where he's at and he showed that this weekend when he stepped up and took the pole yesterday. That was pretty awesome. It's his only pole of the year and just shows you that the pressure is really not getting to him because he didn't mess that up. So I thought that was pretty cool. I think he's obviously ready to go racing. I think Jimmy Fennig is a great leader. He's a great crew chief at Roush Racing and has brought Mark Martin so close so many times. He's won a lot a races, so there's some experience there, too. I think they're in the driver's seat right now. I think they'll go out and do the things he knows how to do and, hopefully, he'll have a trouble-free day and bring it home."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED - THOUGHTS ON HOW KURT HAS HANDLED THIS CHASE? "I told him two weeks ago that I thought it was important for all of us to get our heads straight and be prepared to lose this thing. The way we have ourselves, we've managed to let Jimmy Fennig continue to lead the team as he has from the pits with all the things he sees and with all his experience. Jimmy Fennig is an unsung hero at Roush Racing. He doesn't do things that create a personal image away from the driver or away from the sponsor or away from the team. He's the trooper that's back there doing everything that he can everyday. It wasn't clear to me and I wasn't thinking about it, but somebody was questioning me last week about what he's seen and what he's done and, of course, he worked with Mark Martin as a crew chief and as a mechanic before that with his ASA cars and some of the things that went on in Wisconsin before he got involved with me and with Bobby Allison. But, anyway, the only two owners in NASCAR Cup racing that Jimmy Fennig has ever worked for is Bobby Allison, which seemed forever. I never thought we'd get him extricated from Bobby and then Bobby finally quit and Jimmy considered a move. He was the last guy to turn out the lights and then of course then he was committed to Mark and now to Kurt, and whatever is next, I regret the day when Jimmy is gonna say, 'This is too much pressure and I'm gonna want to stop doing this.' I'll regret it along the same lines of my regret for Mark saying he wasn't gonna go forward and continue to chase championships."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED - CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY THINGS HAVEN'T GONE LIKE LAST YEAR? "Well, several things. I've probably made some mistakes that I typically don't make - like the Dover pit road thing. Things like that when you know you should do things that are smarter and don't make a mistake. That's probably been one thing. I'm not a big believer in luck, but sometimes things just go right and sometimes they go wrong. This year when we had the things go wrong, we couldn't turn it in to be something right. You've seen that with Kurt this year. I mean, in this chase he's spun out three times in front of the whole field and nobody has hit him. That's things going right. Sometimes you have that on your side and sometimes you don't. I can't blame a lot of that on that, but we have had flat tires and things like that happen, but, basically, we haven't had our cars running good enough. Our equipment is better than it's ever been. We've got better stuff to work with than we ever had, but we just got behind in the middle of the year, I think, aerodynamically and the 6 and the 16 and them guys really got running good in the middle of the summer and it seems like we've spent the remainder of the year figuring out what we needed to get caught up to them guys and, so far, we haven't really got it to what we had in 2002 and through the beginning of last year and the beginning of this year, yet."

HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED BEING THE CHAMPION? "Life hasn't really changed how you approach races or the fun you have racing or the things you like to do or anything like that. The thing that changed this year that I'd probably do a little bit different, hopefully if and when it happens to us again, is that I probably did a little bit too much stuff last winter and even during this year as far as appearances and scheduled myself and probably spread myself a little too thin, which probably didn't help things. I don't know if it really hurt things, but it didn't really help things. It definitely had me wore down at times more so than I wish I was or what I have been in the past, so that's probably the biggest difference is there are a lot of opportunities to go do different stuff. A lot of it, you have to do, but some of the stuff you didn't really have to do. If I ever did it again, I'd probably cut back on that because the schedule keeps getting bigger. We did all of our tests at the end of the year. If we do it again, we're gonna have to do things probably a little bit different - the way we did our test schedule and things like that because, not necessarily just myself, but I could really see the team run into the ground this year and I've never seen that before out of our team. I've always seen energy and enthusiasm and ready to go to the track. The last five or six weeks I've seen dragging and wanting to get it over and it's hard to perform when everybody is like that and that's something we need to address this winter is how to make it where everybody still has energy at the end of the year. The schedule is not getting any better. It's gonna be worse next year. They've added two days of testing and added a west coast race and didn't change the travel schedule, so it's gonna be worse next year and we've got to figure out how to manage that, I think, a little better."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED - WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN KURT FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR? "The main thing I see that Kurt's got going in 2004 over 2003 is one more year's experience. When he came to us in 2000 in the truck program, he had less than 70 races on his resume with cars that were more than 2000 pounds. That speaks volumes. He was just a baby and just getting started. All the things that happened that are contentious on the race track, among people that have got the space that don't want to share it, those things were new for him. All the pressure from the media and being under the microscope. That was all new. He's an incredibly quick study. He adapted to the cars quickly and, of course, that was the thing that allowed him to win the gong show in '99 before he got in the truck in 2000. Everytime something bad happens to him he resolves not to let it happen again. He's not hard-headed that way and everytime something good happens, he writes that down and you're gonna see more of that. Maybe this year he's been a little more open, not that he wasn't open before, but he may be a little more open to appeals that the people around him have made, myself included. Things like, 'You haven't seen this before. We can anticipate this is going to be a problem. Here's what you need to do about this. Think about it because when it comes up, you need to be ready.' We may have, through looking at what we - and I'm talking about Jimmy Fennig and Geoff Smith and myself and all the other drivers on our team - have tried to help him and he's accepted it in a good kindly spirit and, as Matt said, he's been incredibly lucky. I was down rubbing Robbie Reiser down a little while ago before I came in here and I said, 'Robbie, how would you characterize your year and what's happening,' because he gave me his views on it, which I won't get into unless I'm asked specifically, but the thing that's clear to me is that we had a fairytale year with the 17. The car was old. The engine wasn't great and the performance on an average day wasn't as good as some of our competitors, but Matt did an incredible job. Our Goodyear tires kept their air all the time when it was important, unlike Talladega for the 17, the caution didn't come out at the wrong time. We didn't have a problem last year until we really had the thing won and then we started experimenting and taking chances that we wouldn't have otherwise taken, but, anyway, I think we had to give some of that back this year. I'd much rather have it, as bad as it is, to endure a year like this, I would much rather have a year like this preceded by a year like we had last year for the 17, rather than have the averages. The averages would be really bad."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED - RECENT PAST CHAMPIONS DALE JARRETT, BOBBY LABONTE, TONY STEWART AND YOU HAVE HAD DIFFICULTY THE FOLLOWING YEAR. IS THERE SOMETHING TO THAT PATTERN? HAS THE CHAMPIONSHIP BECOME SUCH A BURDEN THAT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR A TEAM TO COME BACK THE FOLLOWING YEAR AND SUCCEED? "I think there's things that can happen that didn't necessarily happen to us. I think in a lot of their cases, at least if I remember correctly, that they lost a lot of people after a championship year. People just leave and go other places, and they hire team members away, and I think that hurt maybe some of them teams. I think these days it's very difficult to win races and win the championship, and I think it's more and more competitive than what it ever used to be. There's not one or two or three guys you're gonna watch all year that you're pick out at the beginning that have a chance to win a championship. I mean, there's 20 or 25 teams and guys that if everything goes right they might be in that position. It's just more competitive than it was before. I think a really god team fives years ago, in 1998 when you look at the 6 and the 24, them guys could have a bad day and run fifth. Not anymore. They can have a bad day and either one of them two teams could run 25th or 20th if they have a bad day. And I think when it goes like that all the little things are more important and the luck's more important. It's just tough to repeat it. I know for us, I touched on before, there's probably things we'd do different with our testing schedules and maybe with my schedule or some of the other things all the team had to do. I think maybe some of that gets to you more than you think it would, but I don't really don't think that hurt our performance a lot, I just think it's tough to stay on top of your game all the time. You know, there's rules changing and all the cars are close to the same speed. It's just tough for one or two teams to be able to dominate."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRESSURE THAT KURT BUSCH IS UNDER RIGHT NOW? "I think the pressure that we had is probably a little bit different, although last year being a season-long battle, once we took the point lead in Atlanta or wherever it was, there was a certain amount of that feeling all year long, where this year you kind of got to reset after 26 races. So it's probably a little bit different. He's probably got a couple months of it, where we probably had six months of it, but being as far ahead as we were, we had a different kind of pressure. We had a pressure that we didn't want to make a mistake and we couldn't break parts and I couldn't drive into the wall or do something silly, were Kurt's pressure this weekend is he knows, to be a for-sure thing, he needs to run in the top three and he needs to lead laps and get bonus points, so that's probably a little bit different."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED - IT SEEMS LIKE KURT BUSCH HAS ICE WATER RUNNING THROUGH HIS VEINS. IS THAT THE WAY HE IS BEHIND THE SCENES? "Kurt puts on a really brave face. Sometimes he's braver than he should be, obviously. He gives you the impression that he really understands everything he cares about understanding and he's doing exactly what he wants to. But the fact is he's a sponge. He picks all the cues that comes from his environment, he picks up the advice that comes from the people around him, and he's looking for approval from the folks who are helping him all the time behind the scenes. To speak of where he is for confidence and strength as it relates to the race car, I think he's qualifying lap yesterday speaks volumes. He certainly was one of the handful of people, and he was the only one who attracted my attention that's going faster, significantly faster on his second lap. Based on what everybody did, there wasn't as much tire left. So he reached down and grabbed a hold of something that most people wouldn't touch and went out and used it on the race track in a way that allowed him to get that pole."

AFTER WINNING YOUR FIRST CUP CHAMPIONSHIP LAST YEAR, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENSE OF PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL FULFILLMENT? "That was a question I hoped nobody would ask. I was so mad and so irritated with the 17 years that had gone with my chase for a championship in NASCAR, I honestly didn't care if I ever won one. I wanted one for Mark Martin and I wanted one for the team, but it was almost like that no matter what happened that there was a rule that somebody made that we were not going to be allowed to win one. And I wanted one for Mark, I wanted one for Matt, I wanted one for one of my drivers, to come back and say, the curse, like this Red Sox thing, this curse is broken, we've outlived it. I was really caught cross purposes because I was prepared to be angry, you know, as long as I did this for what they've done to me and for what my frustrations had been over a period of time. So, it took me a while to get detoxed from that, to get settled down, so my year in the first championship, Matt Kenseth year, my year has been coming back and getting a normal, even-keel toward the championship race. I've got a completely different mindset this year than I had last year and I am in agreement with what we've obviously done with the Chase for this year. It sure feels like it's going to be great for the fans and the media. I was apprehensive that in the first year that it would show the gains in ratings and in fan approval and all the things that it has because the sponsors are watching. You know, they want to know that this is really good for them, not just good for all the other people, all the other business interests. I'm much more at ease this year going forward. As a matter of fact, I haven't put one word together on a potential owner-acceptance speech; if I have one it'll be a last-minute scurry if I have to do that, and I'm prepared and at peace with myself that if we can't win this year that it's been a good fair chase and whoever the champion is that I'll celebrate it as much as I would if I was just a fan."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED -- CARL EDWARDS HAS COME CLOSE TO WINNING A COUPLE OF RACES. WHAT IS THE UPDATE FOR THE 99 TEAM IN TERMS OF SPONSORSHIP AND WHAT YOU ANTICIPATE FOR HIM. "If I were a sponsor out there wanting to sponsor a NEXTEL Cup team, you know, I'd sure look at that 99 and say, 'That's gotta be the one for me.' The blue sky on that program with Bob Osborne and what all the guys are doing, Harry McMullen, general managing the thing, and Geoff Smith's leading the charge for all the sponsors and all, put piecemeal we've got a half a season worth of sponsorship for the program right now, and as you said, he hasn't won his first race yet. It's incredible what's he's doing and what that young team is doing. I think it speaks volumes to what Mark Martin has done this year, too, because Mark has set out, he has been the maverick that would set out on a different tack technologically. We got five teams running along and one of them jumps out there and says, 'You know, we might not being doing the right thing here, I'm going to go off in a different direction,' there's a very good chance that there's going to be a failure associated with that - the one that's going one against four is not going to come out on top - but Mark decided early in the year, in fact really started working it last year, a different strategy as it relates to the aero and the chassis setups for our Fords. And he's provided the direction for the 99. The 99 car right now has got the identical car to what Mark has. You watch what happens today during practice. You'll find if Mark gets out of his car and goes in his trailer, that Carl Edwards will be right behind him, because he's going to go in and find out what he's doing on the spring, what's he's doing on the shock, what it felt like. Not just what the engineer said he did, but he wants to look Mark in the eye and see. And that reason as seen by me is art of the difficulty that we've had with the 17 and even the 16 for some of the important times when we've been off the mark there. Greg's done a nice job, Matt did a nice job coming off his year, Robbie and that team provided leadership for the whole group, and as Mark started making the turn and figuring out w hat we needed to do for Mark, and we were a little slower, and I would've been too if I would've been Robbie or been Matt, a little slower to say, 'Hey, we're going to give up on our championship stuff and, given the fact we're saving tests and things, we're going to give up on that and go follow Mark. I probably would've been a little slower to make my change as well."

DO YOU THINK CARL WILL RUN THE ENTIRE SEASON NEXT YEAR, OR WILL YOU WAIT AND SEE? "It's my expectation that we'll run the full schedule with him. The position I had on the 99 as it related to Jeff Burton last year and I told Jeff and I told the whole team that we would run the 99 car until our marketing office, led by President Geoff Smith, said that we didn't have the prospect for a sponsor or until I couldn't afford it. Those were the two things. So, if they said they had no sponsor and I could still afford it, I'd run it. If they said we had no sponsor coming or no prospect of it and I saw jeopardy to the rest of the programs, I'd quit. And that's exactly where I am right now. Except that we've got much more blue sky. With the way that the 99 is running and with all the good feeling that the momentum that Carl is carrying and the blue sky that is anticipated for that program, I cannot imagine that we won't have a sponsor, not that we don't have a sponsor potential, but I expect that we will have a sponsor for the entire year, and I expect other things being equal that I'll still be able to afford it, if we don't."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED - WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR? "I'm not sure what the highlight was, but the lowlight was not being able to defend it. I've really been agonizing over that, I think, the last eight weeks more so than I've been thinking about how cool it was to win it. We had a lot of cool stuff happen last winter. Probably one of the most fun days was the day that Robbie, Katie and Jack and I got to travel with Mike Helton up to Washington, D.C. and got to see some cool sights up there and then got to go to the White House and meet the President. The four of us went to dinner that night and stuff. That was probably the most fun day. We got to all get to talk and get to know each other better than just what we do at the race track and that was probably the most fun part."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED - HOW DID KURT GET TO BE WITH ROUSH? "The deal with Kurt and how he got to be with Roush and what that meant to him, he's obviously given you some of his impressions on it, but my impression is that we had as hard a competition for our slot in the truck series for a rookie. Kurt went to the first track. We took 400 people a couple of weeks ago to North Wilkesboro and sorted it down to three that we actually signed coming out of that, but Kurt was probably in a group of about 25 or 50. We went to the first track with six or eight of his peers and wasn't spectacular the first time. The fact is that, and he probably knows this, but he didn't make the cut. He was the first alternate, but his experience level was so much less than anybody else's, that at that time - I won't say that I stood in judgment over that, I didn't - but the people who made the judgment didn't assess where he had come from and how little experience he had, so he didn't make the cut, but one of the guys who did make the cut, based on the fact he was making the cut for us had somebody else watching him and they immediately signed him. So we wound up with a vacancy - one of the four or five people we were gonna take to our second test didn't go. He decided that he would go sign with somebody else, rather than go take a chance of surviving the next round. So as an afterthought, Kurt got the call. 'Hey, if you still have time and are interested, come to Toledo,' or wherever it was they went for the second test and he was spectacular. The second chance he had to be in one of our trucks. The second time around working with the crew and he was spectacular. He was the hands-down favorite. That little bit of experience he had with it and the way he assimilated the rights and the wrongs and the positives and the negatives, it was clear that there was no choice to make. He was the one."

WHERE WERE THE TESTS AT? "I'm not sure. One of them was at Flat Rock, Michigan and the other one may have been at Rockingham. If I had to guess, I would guess the first one was Flat Rock and the second was Rockingham. The fact is I didn't go to either test and I don't recall."

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE TEMPLATE IS FOR QUALIFYING FOR THE CHASE? "The qualifying for the chase is 26 races and, it's seen by me, the same as the old strategy was for the 36-race championship under the old scenario. You've got to be consistent. You've got to recover from bad days. You have to take what the race track and the competition will give you and the yellow flags will give you on a given day and only make your charge to win a race and to realize the ultimate prize when it's obviously within reach. I was wrong and I was doing it as much tongue-in-cheek, but when people ask me what the strategy was going to be for the second 10 races, I was the guy that raised my hand and said, 'This has got to be a sprint. Go out there and go as hard as you can 10 times with as much timing and as much gear as you can.' I figured that everybody would do that and the one that had the halo or the golden horseshoe in his pocket, he would be the guy that didn't have a problem and based on that intensity and throwing caution to the wind, he would win. But in fact, it feels like as it's worked out that it's still about durability, consistency and the second 10 now is not different than it would have been under the old regime of racing for 36 times. Consistency and being wiser with what you try to do on the race track and keeping your car out of harm's way and not making enemies on the race track, I think those things are as important as they ever were."

MATT KENSETH CONTINUED - HAVE YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO RIDE YOUR SPECIAL EDITION HARLEY DAVIDSON? "Not very much. I just probably rode it a couple hundred miles. We built a new fan club/museum-type store up in my hometown of Cambridge, Wisconsin, so when we got that done, I put that bike up in that store and that's where it's sitting right now."

JACK ROUSH CONTINUED - CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE OTHER TWO GUYS YOU HAVE SIGNED FROM THE GONG SHOW? "I'm not prepared to give you the names. We haven't decided to make an announcement of that yet, but we're looking for sponsorship and we'll put them in series that suits our purpose whenever we can find sponsors. In the meantime, we will support them in the other things that they're trying to do - at 19 and 20 years old the other options that they have will provide support for them - either small amounts of sponsorship or hardware or other tangible means of support as well as the money to maintain for us the option of placing them. The fact is of the last 10 that went to Darlington, there were at least eight that you could throw a blanket over. It was the toughest thing my guys have done to make a decision for one of those eight."

CAN YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR CONVERSATION WITH ROBBIE? "He just said the stuff piled up on him. He said that we broke two engines as we tried to make our engines better. We've been melding an engine program together this year and we broke two engines in the final 10 races here, which is uncharacteristic, and we had a caution fall wrong. Matt had his issue at Dover, where he missed pit road there, and those things just don't happen in a year when it's going for you and when you can do it. So it piled up. We've got to re-fit and reload and regain our focus on this thing."

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