· Ford Racing enters Pocono with three drivers in the top-12 of the latest NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, including leader Greg Biffle and second place Matt Kenseth - just one point behind Biffle - while Carl Edwards stands 12th.
· Two current Ford drivers have NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Pocono. Carl Edwards has a pair of victories (2005 and 2008) while Greg Biffle is the most recent Ford driver to win in 2010.
· Although winless so far at Pocono, Matt Kenseth has enjoyed decent success at the track over the years, achieving three top-five and nine top-10 finishes at Pocono in the Cup series
· A Blue Oval has claimed victory 21 times at Pocono, second most among manufacturers.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion, trails Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle by one point in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings heading into Sunday’s race. Kenseth spoke to the media before Friday’s first practice session to discuss how his team’s test session went and his expectations for Sunday.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TRACK CHANGES? “They did a great job with the track. I think it’s probably the nicest repave I’ve ever seen. Of course, there was definitely a lot of room for improvement so that’s probably why it seems so nice. They did a good job fixing the inside and paving it and with the SAFER barriers and the track is really smooth, so I think it’s a lot nicer than anybody expected it to be. I’m excited to be here. We’ll see what today brings and go from there.”
CARL SAID THINGS LOOKED AND FELT DIFFERENT TO HIM AS FAR AS HIS VISUAL POINTS OF REFERENCE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU? “It’s a lot different, especially turn one. The markers are still there to the right side, but before the track had so much character. It had a lot of bumps and a lot of different visual cues to look at going into the corner. It was easier to feel how far you could get in the corner, when you could get off the brakes – all that stuff – but turn one for me has been the hardest. The other two aren’t too bad, but turn one is hard for me to figure out how fast to roll in there. You kind of get in the brakes in the same spot, but it’s hard for me to visualize how fast you’re going, if you can get off the brake earlier or if you’re gonna be going too fast and miss the bottom. So that corner has been a little tough for me to get used to just because everything kind of looks the same.”
SOME OF THE FAST LAPS HAVE COME AFTER THE TIRES HAVE COOLED DOWN. DO YOU SEE GUYS SAVING A SET OF SCUFFS FOR A POSSIBLE SHORT RUN AT THE END? “I don’t know about that so much. I think the track, as it gets warmed up and gets some cars to run on it, after you run a few laps on the track – a new pave always goes a little quicker, not necessarily I think the older tires, but as you burn fuel off and as you go back out and their warm. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of that. I think as soon as you’ve got fuel to make it to the end, I don’t think you’re gonna come to pit road again unless you’re the last couple cars on the lead lap. I think if you do need fuel and it’s the end of the race and there are 10 laps left, you’re not gonna put tires on because I think you’ll be better off to leave the ones you have on, so I think you’re gonna see a lot of that – kind of like Clint (Bowyer) touched on. I think you’re gonna see a lot of strategy, just make sure you’ve got the best track position you can and the most fuel that you can hold.”
WHERE DO THINGS STAND FROM A CONTRACT SITUATION WITH ROUSH FENWAY? “I’ve made it a habit to never talk about my contract in the media and I’m gonna try to keep it that way. I never said it was my contract year. Other people might have said that, but I never said that in the media.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT THE SPEEDS WE’RE SEEING HERE AND NEXT WEEK AT MICHIGAN? “As far as this track I don’t have any more or less concern than I did before they paved it. If you go off into turn one and blow a tire at 200 compared to 207 or whatever we’re running now, I don’t know it’s much of a difference because you’re still gonna hit something pretty hard. Other than that, it’s not any harder to drive here. It’s actually probably a little bit easier just because it’s not bumpy and the line is pretty defined where you’re gonna run. Michigan, it’s hard to say until you get all the cars there, but it’s extremely fast. You’re not concerned about it. It’s not like it’s harder to drive at 215 than it is at 200 or anything like that, but certainly if something happens at the wrong place at your top speed – I don’t know where the cars get upside-down and all that stuff when they spin out, I know they’re doing the shark fin and some other things to make sure they stay on the ground – but there’s not a problem if there’s not a wreck.”
ARE THE SPEEDS HIGH ENOUGH WHERE THIS RACE WILL HAVE A PLATE RACE FEEL IN SOME PORTIONS – LIKE DRAFTING AND THAT SORT OF THING? “No, I think you draft because you close up on someone off the corner, but it’s not like a draft like Daytona or Talladega, where you’re wide-open and you’re just trying to position yourself and you’re getting pushed. It’s nothing like that. You’re not gonna want anyone near you when you enter the corner here going that fast. It’s a lot different than that, but certainly the higher speed you have, the more you can suck up on somebody when you’re behind them. Certainly there’s more of that that goes on.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO HAVE FIVE DAYS AT ONE TRACK? IS THERE ANY CONCERN HAVING YOUR CREW GUYS SEQUESTERED FOR SO LONG IN ONE AREA? “I’d be more concerned about my team if we were in Vegas for five days than Pocono (laughter). I don’t know what they’re gonna do here. Hike themselves to death? I’m not sure (laughter). I’m not too worried about those guys. It’s been alright being here. There’s not a lot going on. I’ve enjoyed the couple days of testing and it’s been fun to get on track and try some stuff. We don’t get to test at any places we really get to race, so I’ve enjoyed that. We ran through some different stuff and got used to the track, so it’s been good. It feels like the start of a normal weekend. It’s been alright and it’s been nice to have a couple nights to just kind of relax.”
WERE MORE TEAMS WORKING ON JUST TESTING AND TRYING THINGS AS OPPOSED TO TRYING TO GO AS FAST AS THEY COULD? “You try to run hard so you can get good information, and there are probably some drivers and or teams that are more concerned about where they stack up in practice than others. I didn’t really look at much. I looked at it at the end because most of the cars in front of us were doing qualifying runs at the end, so I was just curious how much they were gonna pick up and trying to watch whether they’re going to stickers or scuffs and stuff like that. Everybody is different. I didn’t put a whole bunch of stock in practice speeds. We were just mainly trying to gather information, get a feel off stuff. Certainly you want to see if it runs faster or slower than the other stuff you were running, but I wasn’t overly concerned about where you rank. Still, you never want to be on the bottom if that’s all you’ve got and you don’t think you can be better today.”
HOW DO YOU THINK STRATEGY WILL PLAY OUT WITH THE RACE BEING 100 MILES LESS? “I don’t think the strategy is really gonna be any different. I think track position is gonna be really important here like we talked about, especially with the new pavement. You just start thinking about those last couple of stops earlier because it happens sooner, but I don’t think the strategy really changes. You’re gonna go out there and run hard every lap and try to keep the best position you can the whole race.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, continues to lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Even though he only has a one-point lead over Matt Kenseth, Biffle remains confident his team will be competitive this weekend at Pocono.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE WEEKEND. “I’m really excited about what Pocono has been able to do here. One is shorten the race a little bit. I think it’s gonna create some more excitement and a little bit more action for that little bit shorter race, and they did a phenomenal job with this paving like everywhere else. I’m just amazed at the roads we drive on on the highway and we come here at these big race tracks – Talladega was the first one and then Daytona and now here – that they’re just glass smooth at 200 miles an hour. It just fascinates me on how they can do that, but my hat’s off to them. They’ve done a fantastic job and I think it’s gonna be a good race. I think it’ll bring some life back to this race track. It’s definitely gonna be exciting and I think all of the drivers enjoy the surface so far. The biggest thing we’re worried about is it being single lane racing for a little bit. That makes it more challenging to pass of course, which could create some more excitement, but once this race track gets a few races on it, it’s gonna be really good.”
WE’VE HEARD THIS TRACK IS UNLIKE OTHER ONES THAT HAVE BEEN REPAVED. WILL GUYS BE MORE COMFORTABLE GOING UP AND LOOKING FOR A SECOND LANE? “I think so. I’ll have to say I’ve gotten out of the groove a couple times and normally it’s damage control trying not to wreck it, and I’ve gotten out of the groove a little bit and I’ve been able to push the gas down halfway and drive off that corner – kind of sliding with the front and the back – but it gives you a little confidence that there’s still a little bit of grip there. As it starts widening out, guys are gonna start experimenting up there and widening the corner out and things like that, so it will be kind of single-lane racing, but we’ll be able to pass, I’m sure, with the extra width we’ve already got on the race track from the white line to the groove right now. Traditionally, the tunnel is still gonna be single-lane. We’re going so much faster through there. The thing feels narrow for one car, I can’t imagine trying to get two cars through there before it was the same way, but I think you’re gonna see a lot of racing in both one and two and three and four down the frontstretch and these straightaways.”
ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY THERE SEEMS TO BE A PERFORMANCE GAP BETWEEN YOU AND MATT AND THE 99? “That’s a good question. They copied the 17s setup for the start of today and weren’t very happy with it and then they came back and looked at what we were doing on different things on our car with air-pressure and other things. It looked like there at the end they jumped up the sheet. They ran a 51.50 in race trim on the second lap on tires, which is pretty fast. That’s the same thing I ran, so I think they got going right at the end of that session in race trim. It’s hard to tell because a lot of guys are in qualifying trim, a lot of guys are in race trim. I don’t know where they’re at on tires. You put new tires on and you slow down, so that makes it difficult to find out where you’re at too because the guy that’s on 20-lap tires and pulls out of the garage, he can lay down a fast lap, but the guy that goes and bolts new tires on is half-a-second slower. It’s sort of backwards. Some guys are in q-trim, some guys are on old tires, new tires, so it’s a little hard to get a handle on it, but I think they’re gaining on it. It’s been that way the whole season. I can’t answer that question. I don’t know why either.”
WHAT KIND OF SPEEDS DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE GOING INTO TURN ONE ON SUNDAY? WHAT KIND OF DRAFTING DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE DURING THE RACE? “I’m just gonna take a wild guess, but probably 210 miles an hour in a draft down the front – maybe a hair more than that. And you will be able to kind of get a run off the corner and kind of draft up on the guy and try to get beside him. That’s always been a thing at Pocono, but just on the front. These other straightaways aren’t quite long enough to really get a head of steam on them, but you’ll see them fanning out on the frontstretch for sure. I’m sure we’ll go in the corner four or five-wide at some point. I just hope everybody gets a chance to get down on the apron getting into one like I did unexpectedly. That thing is pretty violent. You’re not gonna dip down on that apron and come back off of there still driving straight ahead, so I think you’ll see a guy clip that apron and the guys that are up the race track are gonna have a rude awakening because he’s on his way up there. It’s a pretty abrupt transition between the apron and the race track, which, in the corners there usually is, but it doesn’t appear visually like it’s like that, plus the corner speeds are really high. You kind of lose track how fast you’re going when you’re in the middle of that corner.”
WILL THERE BE ANY RACE IMPLICATION WITH GUYS GOING FASTER ON SCUFF TIRES OR WILL GUYS GET INSIDE THEIR FUEL WINDOW AND JUST STAY OUT AS LONG AS THEY CAN? “Yeah, it’s definitely gonna be track position like a road course race. You’re gonna want to get inside your window and stay out for track position because new tires aren’t gonna go anywhere. I think everybody knows that.”
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS TRACK NEEDED SOME LIFE BACK INTO IT? WHAT’S BEEN MISSING? “I think some excitement is probably a better word than bringing some life back to it because these cars, we’re trying to get the splitter 1/32nd of an inch off the ground all the way around the track and you go down into turn one and there are big bumps and the thing is bouncing up in the air, so you’re trying to balance out the thing from hopping up and down and bouncing on the old track to the grip. It was just hard. It was like the track didn’t really match up to our cars as well as it does now. Now, we can really traditionally work on our cars because it’s so smooth and we can work on our splitter and swaybars and springs and shocks and all that good stuff. Before, it was hard to work on and getting your car to do what you wanted it to do.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR DAD HELPED YOU WITH RACING GROWING UP AND IS PROBABLY THE ONE MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU GETTING TO WHERE YOU’RE AT? “Yeah, he definitely is. He took me to the Friday night and Saturday night short track race for the first time I went and watched and then my dad and I built a street stock car and that’s how I got started. I really, really enjoyed that, but I have to say my mom never missed a race until I went truck racing full-time, so she was at every race I ever raced.”
ISN’T BEING MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR CONJURE UP IT BEING A LESS EXCITING RACE? “You’ve got to kind of watch how you’re saying that because more comfortable meaning we can actually do things to the car now – change swaybars and change springs and shocks and change trackbar heights and do other geometry changes and it makes a difference. You can feel it in the seat of the car, so it’s fun to be able to keep working on your car to get it to go better and go faster. Before, it was like driving off-road, if you will. The car was bouncing up and down. You’d come in and make a geometry change or something else and you couldn’t even feel it because the car was hitting the bumps and doing something different every lap. Now you can actually work on it, so it’s not necessarily easier to drive or easier to do, it’s easier to work on. We can actually work on it now and get a result, whereas before it was really difficult. All the technology we have as drivers behind the wheel, we couldn’t really muster up anything but now we can. We can use what’s available to us.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW FAR THIS TRACK HAS COME THE LAST COUPLE OF YEAR BY IMPROVING THE SAFETY AND NOW THIS REPAVE? “Definitely my hat’s off to them as far as the safety goes. They addressed the safety right away. We saw Steve Park upside-down across the guard rail and we saw other guys get run down there and cut across the track and get hit at 190, and then we saw Elliott Sadler’s engine fly out, so there have been some issues that they came and definitely addressed. They put the SAFER barriers in and paved that runoff area. Anytime you’ve got grass close to where a car is going 180 or 190 it’s usually not good. They’ve addressed all that stuff and the SAFER barriers all the way around. They’ve done a really, really nice job and that was my comment earlier about this place is really turning into something now for our sport. I think it’s gonna be a fun track.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON SO FAR EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE LEADING BY THE SLIMMEST OF MARGINS? “I guess it’s more than Tony won the championship by last year. He won it by zero, but it’s been an up-and-down season for us. We’ve been pretty good everywhere we’ve been and it’s no different here. We’re pretty good here and there’s a lot of confidence in that. The tides have turned. There are a lot of different cars that have run good this season and one of them is back there, I see him standing back here who is up next (Martin Truex Jr.). They’re one of the cars that continues to be good every week, and I think it says a lot about the teams and how hard they’re working, and what we’re figuring out is kind of catching up to the competition, if you will.