Matt Kenseth 09 / Paul Menard Here
Kittie Allison / Kasey Kahne Here
Kevin Harvick / Matt Kenseth08 Here
Kelly Bires / Scott Wimmer Here
Press Conference with Matt Kenseth May 21,
By Fr Dale Grubba
It was the Thursday before the Coca-Cola 600 and drivers were being interviewed about how they handle the extra 100 miles of racing. Had the media been able to look into the future it might have been more appropriate to ask how drivers stay up for a race that is going to stretch over a 24-hour period of rain interspersed with what amounted to old-fashioned short track features.
Matt Kenseth’s answer to the first question was that he really doesn’t race it any different. He says that there was a time not too long ago when you could sort of ride at 80% keeping a distance of five car lengths behind the car ahead of you and five car lengths ahead of the car behind you. You could log some miles at a consistent pace where you weren’t pushing anything. Now it is a different story. It is so competitive and everybody is so close to the same speed that everybody is pretty much hammer down from start to finish.
Is it getting too late for teams to make changes and get in the Chase? Kenseth says he has never been in that position. There have been years when his team started out slower than he might have liked or started out strong and then faltered a bit but he has always felt good about his team and never felt that a change in personnel was necessary. It has always been a matter of everyone doing a better job. As for his chances this year Kenseth observes, “I think we’ve got a championship contending team, we just have to dot our I’s and cross our T’s just right because it is that competitive. We always are evaluating and re-evaluating and trying to make things better, but I don’t think it’s a personnel issue.”
According to Kenseth, reflecting back to the year he came from 16th or 18th, to make the Chase, it is all about race car performance. No matter how good your team is if your cars don’t run, you’re not going to get good finishes unless you’re just extremely lucky. “I think as a group at Roush Fenway we haven’t been as strong as we need to be. I think we realize that as a company and we’re working to make that better, and my past experience is you can’t force it. That year we were so far behind and caught up we didn’t force anything. We quit having flat tires and I maybe quit driving through the pit box, or didn’t hit the wall, or have bad pit stops, or the cautions wouldn’t fall when you needed them to fall. Sometimes there are things that are just out of your control and you can’t do anything about it. It aggravates you, but you also have to be able to look at it at the end of the day and just say, ‘That’s the way things are gonna go sometimes,’ and hope things go better next week.”
Kenseth agrees that Roush Fenway has not been as consistent this year. The year couldn’t have started better for Kenseth with two wins, but then he finished last when his motor broke. The hard thing, according to Kenseth, is that it isn’t just one thing that needs to be remedied. It has been a bit of everything. There have been weeks where the car is fine but the pit stops are off and vice versa. At Talladega he was running second with six laps to go and got a flat tire when the caution came out. “It’s just been a lot of different things,” Kenseth says. “But at the end of the day all that really matters are your finishes and we’ve been too inconsistent, so, really, we’ve just been looking at all aspects of the program and just trying to improve every part of it.”
The question was asked if Kenseth could ever remember when a mediocre car becomes a race winning car when you get the lead. Kenseth’s response was, “I’ve said this before, but racing is about the fastest car winning. When you put the fastest car in front of all the rest of the cars that aren’t as fast, the fastest car is going to drive away from the pack. That just makes sense and that’s just how it works. But I also remember that year - and not to take away from all those wins - that Ryan Newman won all those races and we were on that really hard tire with the old car and the old aero package. The tire was so hard that when you got in dirty air you couldn’t pass and they had that figured out. They would pit early and stay out on fuel mileage, stay out and run half throttle, and when they’d get in front, their car seemed like it was a half second faster and nobody could beat them. So there are a lot of factors that go into it.”
Is Kenseth surprised at how well Mark Martin is doing? Not at all. If you look at how the Hendrick cars and the affiliated Stewart-Haas cars are doing it is not surprising. “I think Mark, I don’t know if he would admit it or not, probably has a little more pressure on himself right now than he thought he would going over there. I’m happy he is doing that well, but, no, honestly it doesn’t surprise me at all. I think everybody in the garage knows Mark can go fast if his cars are fast.”
Travis Kvapil by Fr. Dale Grubba – March 31,
For Janesville’s Travis Kvapil the economic downturn could not have picked a worse time to happen. After being with Roger Penske and then Cal Wells, Kvapil was looking for a way to get back to the Sprint Cup level of racing.
He knew that he had to get hooked up with a multi-car team that had both resources and funding. “Unfortunately when I was driving for Cal Wells in 2006 we didn’t have any of that. We were a single car effort with very limited funds. Manufacturer support was minimal. It was tough to go out and make races and perform.
“In my mind…. Man, I want to be a Cup driver for the long haul. I knew I had to align myself with one of the bigger teams. That’s really why when Jack (Roush) came to me and asked me to drive truck for him it was an opportunity I jumped at. I knew I could go out and win races and do a good job for him. For me to survive for the long haul in Cup racing I needed to align myself with Roush Racing.”
Kvapil paid his dues by racing trucks and then, by a twist of fate, ended up back in Cup driving for the Yates Team, which had become closely connected to the Roush operation.
“I came in one day, “ Kvapil recalls, “to talk to some potential sponsors not really knowing what I was in for. Doug Yates was sitting in the room with Jack Roush and the higher ups at Roush Fenway Racing. They laid out what was happening and it really took me by surprise. I didn’t have any idea what 2008 was going to hold for myself, what path I was going to go down. The timing worked out. Ricky Rudd was retiring so they needed someone to step up. I was the driver Jack Roush and Doug Yates had confidence in. It was really just a good fit.
“I almost really didn’t expect another chance. I drove for two Cup teams before. We did not perform. Thankfully Jack Roush still believed in me and gave me the opportunity to go out and reprove myself.
“ In my mind I feel like this is my last chance,” Kvapil said at the start of the 2008 season. “I don’t think there are any opportunities better than this, driving for a team in the top 35, competitive equipment, and a very established crew chief that has had a lot of success and won races. This is where I need to step up and get it done, really focus on the task at hand.”
Kvapil did that. Midway through the 2008 season he was hovering around the top twenty cars in the points with hopes of breaking into the top fifteen. Then there was a midseason slump. “We weren’t doing anything different,” Kvapil says. “I honestly feel like some of the other teams caught up a little bit. I felt like our program was really strong to start the year off. Then we didn’t test at Nashville, Kentucky, Milwaukee, or any places we could have tested. The other teams did and it gave them the opportunity to catch up. They got their cars figured out. We had the same thing as we did at the get go. It goes back to sponsorship and having money in the budget to do all these things. We weren’t in that situation.
“Overall we did ok. We were twenty-third in the points. We needed to run better. We had some good runs mixed in. Talladega was definitely the high point. We won the pole, ran up front, and led some laps. We finished the season off with a seventh place finish at Homestead. It’s always nice to end the year with a good finish.”
Asked at the start of the 2009 season what lay ahead Kvapil admitted it was really up in the air. He was scheduled to drive five races and hopefully by that time a sponsor would come on board. “At the end of the day,” Kvapil admitted, “it still comes down to sponsorship dollars. It’s discouraging because I feel like we’ve got something to build off of from last year.
“I’m under contract for the whole year with Yates Racing. Once we get to the fifth race we will deal with it, whether some other opportunities arise or we start scattering races. I’m not sure what the plan is. All I can do is go out there and drive the heck out of it and hope for the best.”
The first five races have come and gone in 2009 and Travis Kvapil was not at Martinsville. A full-time sponsor has yet to be found. It’s unfortunate because Travis Kvapil is a confident young man who believes he has a place in Cup racing.
Kurt Busch by Father Dale Grubba for dwgracepix.com- March 13th, 2009
Kurt Busch was winning the 2004
NASCAR Championship while his brother Kyle was busy knocking down walls getting
established. Then along came 2008 and Kyle had a break out year with Joe Gibbs
Racing winning everything but the Cup championship. Dick Berggren remembers
being in victory lane when Kyle Busch won his first race. “I looked under the
car and there was a pool of oil,” Dick recalls. “It told me two things. Kyle was
good and he was also lucky.”
Asked about being the face of NASCAR Kyle responded, “It’s about putting butts in the stands. It’s not just me bringing people to the races it’s everybody. I’m fortunate to be one of those guys at the present moment.”
Told that his fellow drivers are starting to say positive things about him Kyle retorted, “I don’t worry about what people say. It’s nice, but maybe they are just trying to get in my head!”
One of Kyle’s important goals is filling the record books with his name. When he is victorious he kills two birds with one stone. First, he wins. Second, he puts his name in the record book.
Kyle admits a shot at driving an F1 car fascinates him. First there is the travel, going to Monaco, Spain, and all over the world. He wishes Schumacher was still around. “It would be fun to pair up against drivers of that caliber and see how well you could do.”
The first two years of Kyle’s career were spent in his brother Kurt’s shadow. The last two brought a reversal of fortunes. How does that sit with Kurt? Is it a weird feeling for the older brother? “Not at all,” Kurt answers. “A lot of times they misspell his name and put my name in there. It’s great to see him do so well and have a break out season at Gibbs. I’d just wish better things for him during the Chase. As brothers we always want to see each other do well and as brothers we always want to beat each other. It is part of growing up. Do we need to catch up to him? Definitely. Would I like to finish in front of him? Of course! It’s just up to us to go out there and do it.”
Have the last couple of years been personally tough on Kurt after being a contender and winning a championship? How tough has it been psychologically? “It’s been tough at times,” Kurt admits. “Then there are the good days when everything falls back in place and it feels refreshing to post a good top five or even a win. To make the Chase in 2007 was exciting; it was a shot at the championship. The races up to the Chase are the toughest ones all year if you are a team on the outside trying to get in. If you are guaranteed a spot, or solidly in the Chase those are the easiest times of the year because you can get ready for the Chase and run strong.
“This sport is the most humbling sport in the world. Win one day, finish 30th the next weekend. You go through highs and lows, peaks and valleys. You have to draw a straight line sometimes, realizing a 15th place finish isn’t all that bad because you have to gain those points.”
In the opening races of the 2009 season Kurt Busch is riding high. “I’m happy with the early season,” he says. “We’ve made some gains in the off season and have great team chemistry. Everyone is clicking on all eight cylinders.”
Doctor Jerry Punch had a suggestion for naming Kurt Busch’s backward lap around the track after his victory in Atlanta. “Rusty Wallace’s final year was the ‘Last Call.’ Kurt’s lap could be named the ‘Kurtin Call’. Whenever there is an outstanding performance, there is usually a curtain call to acknowledge the audience…so there could be a lap for Kurt to say thanks to his fans for their support…sort of a “Here’s ‘2’ you race fans, Kurtin Call.”
No doubt Kurt wouldn’t mind laying a “Here’s ‘2’ you, Kurtin Call” on his brother Kyle in 2009.
Johnny Sauter by Fr. Dale Grubba for dwgracepix.com – March 11, 2009
The summer of 2008 was a tough one for Johnny Sauter, one he would prefer to forget. He started out the year thinking he had a full time ride only to lose it a couple of races into the season. Once the season has started it is very difficult to find another ride. There is an ever increasingly small amount of teams looking for drivers, and many expect the driver to bring financial help or a sponsor.
“Last year was a learning year,” says Sauter. “Every year I learn something. You say to yourself that next year can’t be as bad as the year before. Turns out it can be. Take your lumps and move on.”
When Dick Trickle didn’t have a ride he felt it was always important to be walking around in the pits. “Out of sight, out of mind,” Trickle would say as he searched for a ride. Sauter agrees. He bought a Nationwide car to start and park out of his garage at home just to be able to be at the track. The Haas team called him back to drive the #70 car in some races.
Sauter’s goal was to find a team he could call home whether it was trucks, Nationwide, or Cup. He wanted to be someplace where he could have staying power and try to build something. It’s hard to have success with a team that is just thrown together. “If you can’t win it takes the fun out of it,” Sauter admits. “When I am forty or fifty years old and in the twilight of my career it might be different.”
The truck team that Sauter is driving for this year is owned by Duke and Linda Thorson and is based out of Sandusky, Ohio. It is essentially a two-truck team that has been around since the start of the truck series. Matt Crafton drives the #88 truck and Sauter has taken over the driver’s seat in the #13, which has been in existence for five years. Sauter had driven a race for them at Homestead in 2005 that served as an introduction that eventually led to his being signed this year.
Sauter thinks his equipment is top line. “We’ve got great motors, Pro-Motors which Hornaday won the championship with.” A new crew chief, Jason Overstreet, has recently joined the team. Overstreet was with Germain last year and had a pole and some good runs to his credit. “No doubt we have the tools and the people,” Sauter states. “We just have to put it together.”
The first two races served as an early indication of Sauter’s being with a good team and gave him hope for the future. “I legitimately felt like we had one of the best trucks at Daytona. I led some laps. We got caught up in a wreck through no fault of our own. The truck had speed so I knew right away we were going to be decent. Then we had a little miscue in the pits in California.”
Sauter’s goal is to be competitive week in and week out. He thinks he can win some races and that would give him something to build on. “I really think we can win some races,” he claims. “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t. We will make some mistakes along the way. The points will fall where they may. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t finish in the top ten in points, maybe the top five.”