Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kenseth confident in team's Chase chances


Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, participated in a video teleconference on Wednesday answering questions about this weekend's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He also addressed the pit road speed timing issue that popped up at the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway this past Saturday night.


Kenseth has qualified for the Chase in all but one year since its inception in 2004. Some say he was an influential factor in the creation of the Chase because he clenched the final Winston Cup in 2003,  having won only a single race. Two wins this season, at Texas and Dover, give him at least six bonus points under the new points system.

Kenseth has become quite a fan favorite on Twitter over the last few weeks, so it was appropriate that the session opened with a Canadian fan asking how confident Kenseth is in his team's chances at winning the Cup. Kenseth said, "Well, there's a lot of racing to do between now and then, but I am really confident with my team. They've been doing a really great job on pit road. They've been doing a great job with car prep and all the things it takes to be successful. I feel pretty good about it right now."

When asked how different it is to have clenched a berth in the Chase so early compared to making it in, Kenseth said, "Feels good being locked in this early. I don't recall being locked in this early before. We might have been, but I don't remember that." He went on to explain that he doesn't plan for the Chase specifically, he and veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig take it race by race, and that focusing is not something they do just for the championship but something they strive for all year long. He says the pressure is much the same too, it's just that mistakes are felt more keenly during the Chase.

Kenseth was asked about the advantages of having an experienced crew chief like Jimmy Fennig. He answered, "Jimmy won the first ever championship in the Chase, so certainly having that experience, for the guys to be able to look up to him and lean on him, always helps."

Assessing the competition, Kenseth said "I think it's all 12 drivers. I think all 11 of them are guys that are legitimately contenders...Each week it gets a smaller group that realistically has a shot. Look at Brad, for instance. A month and a half ago, I don't think anybody in the media or garage would have uttered his name at the same time mentioning his name when they're talking about winning the championship this year. I don't think anybody would have thought of that. Look at how amazing his streak has been here the last month, month and a half, whatever it's been. Now, I mean, he's almost got to be one of your picks to have a shot at it."

Looking to this weekend's race at Atlanta, Kenseth seemed to have few concerns about the how the tires would react He acknowledged the way the surface of the track had gotten more abrasive over the last few years and said, "The speed falling off and the drop-off, the tire wear, all that stuff is a good thing, in my opinion, for racing. I think it makes it much more interesting. I think it creates a lot more passing and side-by-side racing. Those are good things." He also said that racing there this late in the year would mean the track would be hotter and slicker, but that "Atlanta has been known for some of the best finishes in NASCAR. I think it's going to be a competitive race and fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Finally, he was asked, "We've seen drivers especially the past few weeks use a brief burst of speed on pit road. Would you like to see NASCAR come up with a way to measure a driver's overall speed or are you happy with the current loop system they have on pit road?"

Kenseth replied: "I think that's a little bit track specific. It makes a big difference how long the segments are, how fast the pit road speed is. There's a lot of things that go into that by how much you can cheat the segment, however you want to say it. It's always been like that ever since they came up with electric scoring. It's happened every single race at Bristol since then."

"The guys I think that were first on it were probably the 48, then everybody started picking their pit stalls for timing things. That's part of it. You're going to get whatever advantage you can get, whether it's on pit road or on the racetrack. As competitive as it is today, you're going to try to use that to your advantage."

"This week I think it had so much attention because the guys who qualified up front and got those pit stalls happened to run up front, too. They were showing those pit stops. That's happened every single Bristol race for at least those four or five pit stalls. That's one of the tracks it wouldn't hurt to address it. If you put twice as many speed lines or put an extra two speed lines per straightaway, you wouldn't have that because the segments wouldn't be long enough to go faster than what your pit road speed is, and then slow down before the next one. That's really how most pit roads are. The speeds are fast enough and the segments are short enough where they don't get to fudge that very much."

"I think the loops is a big step towards policing it compared to how the old days of pit road was done by a stopwatch. If they want to use a GPS tracker to check the pit speed, that would be fine with me. I think most tracks are pretty under control."

Coverage of the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway begins Sunday, Sept. 4, at 7:30pm/et on ESPN, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio 90. Green flag is scheduled for 7:46pm.

Other coverage includes:

Happy Hour Practice:
Saturday, September 3, 1:30 pm/et
SPEED

Qualifying:
Saturday, September 3, 5:10pm/et
SPEED




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