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Q&A: Matt Kenseth After Winning UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400

Posted March 4, 2003

— Matt Kenseth won the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 and solidified his team's dominance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Roush Racing cars have won four times in the track's six-year Winston Cup history.

Kenseth, who won a Winston Cup-best five races last season, got incredible help in the pits - his crew gave his Ford four tires in 13 seconds on their final stop - to jump out to a huge lead and beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line by 9.104 seconds.

Kenseth's crew has won the annual pit crew challenge the past two seasons.

Here's what Kenseth and Roush had to say after the race about Kenseth's victory.

MATT KENSETH

"We just have an awesome pit crew. We had some turnover this winter, but these guys are still the world champions. These guys worked really hard to get me out of the pits, and it was key to be out front.

"It seemed like the Fords had trouble keeping up when we were behind, but when we got out front, we could set sail. I'm pretty excited. I didn't expect to win here. It's a great day for our DEWALT Ford."

Q: WHAT WAS THE KEY TO VICTORY?

KENSETH:

"Just getting out front. The pit stop where we beat Dale, Jr. out of the pits, that was the key, and I stayed out by accident. When I stayed out with Dale, Jr. they wanted me to pit, and I stayed out by accident, so that was a big help, actually, because of the way it worked out and being ahead of the 8 (Earnhardt) after that pit stop.

"We had a great run all day. We had a real good car. There are a couple of silly things that happened. I was supposed to pit, and I stayed out when Dale, Jr. stayed out. That ended up in our favor and got us some track position, and then my pit crew just had a great stop and got us out front on our last pit stop. They just did a good job to get us where we needed to be, so we had a real good handling car all day. It was real tough to come from behind, but once we got out front, we could show how strong our car really was."

Q: HOW WAS THE DECISION MADE TO STAY OUT WHILE OTHERS PITTED?

KENSETH:

"It was kind of like one of those things when, some days, you wake up, and everything goes wrong, and some days you wake up, and everything goes right ,even by accident. It was kind of like everything went right even by accident.

"(Crew chief) Robbie (Reiser) told me to pit, but he said: 'If the leaders pit, pit.' Well, we were running fourth, and the leader stayed out while second and third pitted, so I just stayed out, and everybody behind me pitted.

"At that time, it didn't look good, because if we would have pitted there and it would have gone green to the end, we could have made it on one stop. But by staying out, we would have had to stop twice, so it was kind of an accident on my part, but it definitely turned out for the better.

"There were probably 10 cars that pitted the caution before that, and they stayed out with us, so if we would have pitted, we would have been buried back in 12th and would have had a much harder time getting back to the front. So that 30-lap run, or whatever it was, and then a caution again to get back on sequence was definitely the key to staying up there."

Q: HOW HARD IS IT TO FIND A RHYTHM WITH A LONG GREEN FLAG RUN, AND THEN A LOT OF CAUTIONS, AND THEN ANOTHER LONG GREEN FLAG RUN?

KENSETH:

"It's more difficult on the short runs than it is the long runs.

"On the long runs, it's easy to find your rhythm because you have the whole track to yourself. On a long run, the cars get separated, so it's a lot easier to find where your car wants to be in the corner and where it feels good. You have the whole track to yourself to make a mistake or to drive it a little different or to move around.

"The short runs are very difficult, especially if you're lined up a little ways back with the lapped cars on the inside. The restarts are two- and three-wide a lot of times and maybe even four-wide a couple times, and it gets fairly interesting. To make our car run good on a long run, we had to be very loose on new tires, so to be real loose and then be on restarts with cars all around you, it makes the car that much more unstable.

"The restarts are the hardest part to get going. But once you get rolling again, and the cars get separated again, it's easy to find a rhythm."

Q: WITH SUCH A BIG LEAD, DID YOU WANT TO CHANGE ANYTHING?

KENSETH:

"I try to do everything the same.

"It's a funny thing. I have a bad habit as a race-car driver to drive into the corner too hard. A lot of times, that will make you go slower because you'll just get in there too hard, and you don't get off the corner as well, so, a lot of times, I'll slow down when we're in the lead, and I'll start letting off two car lengths earlier, and I'll run faster lap times.

"I just try to do everything basically the same as what we do. I try not to change anything. Obviously, I don't drive as hard as if I had somebody two car lengths behind me, but I still try to keep a pretty good pace and keep hitting my marks, because you never know when there's going to be a caution, or something is going to change. You still want to be able to keep your car going at least 90 percent, so you know what it's going to feel like if you have to race somebody at the end."

Q: DO YOU AGREE WITH DALE, JR. THAT YOUR CAR WAS BETTER THAN HIS EVEN WHEN YOU WERE BEHIND HIM?

KENSETH:

"I was running hard to try to catch the leader, just like you would anytime, but at times, we would be better, and we'd run a little quicker lap times. At times, we'd break even. At times, we'd be just a tick slower.

"I felt like at that time we had a little better car on a long run. If we could run from a full tank of gas to an empty tank of gas, I felt like we had as good a car as anybody out there. Some of those guys on new tires could run a little faster than us, but they'd lose more than that at the end of the run. So I felt good about our car on the long run."

Q: WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH FOR THE SEASON?

KENSETH:

"It's just unbelievable. I can't believe the year we had last year and the start to this year we've had. It's just a huge confidence boost for our team.

"As everybody knows, we had a little turnover in people. We've got a couple new tire changers and a new tire carrier out there, so the confidence for those guys is big. Last week, they were down on themselves because we didn't quite have the pit stop we wished we would have had at the end, and it possibly could have taken us out of contention.

"This week, they won the race for me. If they wouldn't have gotten me out in front of the 8 car (of Earnhardt) and got that great pit stop on the last stop, who knows? Something might have happened, and we might not have won. So it's a huge confidence builder for those guys.

"One of the guys that goes over the wall changing tires has never changed tires in any division over the wall in his life. He's carried tires, but he's never changed tires. So to do that, and today to do it on a championship level and throw those people together, is just a huge testament to how hard all our guys work and how organized Robbie and Jack and everybody at Roush Racing has our team. The will and desire for those guys to win and how hard they work makes me so proud of my team. I don't know how to explain it."

TEAM OWNER JACK ROUSH

Q: HOW IS IT THAT, IN SIX CUP RACES HERE, YOU'VE WON FOUR OF THEM WITH THREE DIFFERENT DRIVERS?

ROUSH:

"The guys are really good at adapting to new race tracks.

"This is a race track we've only been able to come to once a year, so I think most drivers don't have a good book on what the race track requires. I think our guys are a little better than average on the new situation, plus I figured when we got here this time that everybody would have good enough information. With the new Chevrolet and the new Pontiac, I figured it would be month of Sundays before we won another race here, but, thanks to Matt and Robbie, they did good."

Q: SO MUCH WAS MADE OF THIS BEING THE FIRST TEST FOR THE NEW BODIES AND AERO WORK. WHAT DID YOU SEE?

ROUSH:

"I don't know is the short answer because NASCAR elected not to take cars to the wind tunnel after Daytona. I'm really interested in what that would look like as we prepare for Talladega and going back there again in the spring.

"For here, this is the first race track that I'm aware of that the Chevrolets and the Pontiacs had tested at. They had not tested at Rockingham, so the way they ran wasn't an indication of what they were going to do. But it sure looked to me, based on the way they qualified and the way they practiced, that it was going to be a rout by the new cars.

"We've got a 1998 Taurus here that we're racing against these new cars, and I thought we wouldn't do well with it. But Robbie and Matt have got just a terrific setup in that car. I think the way the 99 (of Jeff Burton) ran is more like I'm afraid we'll see the good Fords run in the near term on short tracks."

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