NEW YORK Matt Kenseth wrapped up his year-long reign as the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion last week when he passed the trophy and the first parking spot in the garage area to his Roush Racing teammate, Kurt Busch.
Before taking a month off, Kenseth talked about his season, his team and his teammate.
Question: You qualified for the Chase for the Championship and finished eighth in the final standings. Do you consider the season a success?
Kenseth: 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.
Question: What are your thoughts about passing the championship torch to Kurt Busch?
Kenseth: Kurt has done a really good job all those last 10 weeks (of the Chase) 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. That was pretty awesome. I think (crew chief) 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.
Question: What's the difference between your championship season and this year?
Kenseth: 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 (Mark Martin) and the 16 (Greg Biffle) 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.
Question: How did your life change as the champion?
Kenseth: 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.
Question: Recent champions like Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and you had difficulty during the season following your championships. Is there something to that pattern?
Kenseth: 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, 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 good team fives years ago, in 1998 when you look at the 6 (Martin) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon), 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. 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.
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