Matt Kenseth won the 2003 championship despite winning just one race. He came into 2004 eager to prove his championship was well deserved. A victory last week at Rockingham, N.C., was the first step in that process. Kenseth talked about that victory and what it means to his DeWalt race team at Roush Racing.
Question: After winning one race a year ago, was there relief to win so quickly in 2004?
Kenseth: Yeah, it feels great to come here and be able to win right out of the box and lead all those laps. That didn't look like us. Usually we don't lead all those laps. Even if we win, we usually sneak up kind of at the end and we had such a strong car, so it feels good to do that because, obviously, some people wrote or some people have said that we can't lead laps and win races, and we just finish seventh every week. So it was great to go dominate the race the way we did. Even though we didn't dominate at the end, it was really fun for me to dominate the middle of the race, and also because we had so much stuff go on over the winter.
Question: You seem more excited than normal about the new season. Is that true?
Kenseth: Yes. We got the same pit crew together. We didn't lose any people and they've been practicing really hard. They showed what they were made of down there today (Sunday). They kept me in the lead and gained me spots when we were behind all day. The new body that Ford has and the engine program and all the stuff we've got going, I've been so excited to get to the track. I thought we were capable of this, so it feels good to me to come here and be able to do this so early in the year.
Question: How important was it to win a race early in the season?
Kenseth: It feels good to come out of the box and win right away. I touched on that a little bit earlier. It feels good to do that. I don't think there was much bad you could say about our year last year and that was one of the most common things they talked about, so whenever you can do something that's good and maybe prove people wrong or prove that we can do things, it always feels good.
Question: This was the first race with the new spoiler rule. How did the car react to the 1 1/4-inch reduction?
Kenseth: I don't think it affected it much here (Rockingham), really. ... I felt good about it because I felt like we were really aero-balanced and I feel like Robbie and Chip and everybody at the shop did the right thing with our cars the way we built them and the different things we did to get our aero-balance right. I feel like we got it right even though it's a little harder to tell here just because the mechanical grip comes into play a little more than aerodynamics. I think it'll be good. It won't be bad. The cars are going to turn better and I think the racing will be a little bit better.
Question: There were about 10,000 empty seats at a track that only has 60,000 seats. What are your thoughts on the possibility of the North Carolina Speedway losing its spot on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule?
Kenseth: I don't like change a lot. I like things the way they are. I like historic places and the roots of it. I understand the need to market the sport to more people and to go to other cities and have a bigger TV number. I understand all of what they're trying to do, but just as a plain racer, it's sad for me because I love racing here. Even if we ran bad here, I'd still love coming here because it's such a different track. There are only two of them left on the schedule (counting the Darlington Raceway) where the tires wear out as much as they do and the cars slide as much as they do. It's like you're driving on ice at the end of the run and you really have to have a good chassis setup. The aerodynamics don't really mean everything and the engine doesn't really mean everything. You have to have a good mechanical setup that has grip in the car and keep it balanced. There's so many different things you can do from a driver's standpoint and from a set-up standpoint and that's really a challenge more so than what we have at a lot of the new types of tracks they're building. It's sad that there's only one race here. I'm glad we won the one race they had this year, and, hopefully, we'll be able to get the attendance here to be able to keep racing here.
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