"It's a people sport. There are a lot of people that have been with Robbie and I since we started with Jack in '99. There are a couple of people Jack moved around within the organization that are still there, but I think there are maybe only two people or three people at the most that aren't with our group anymore. We might have moved some people and changed positions and this and that, but they have all stuck it out.

"Even when we had a terrible, awful year in 2001, the crew chief didn't get fired, the driver didn't get fired. We didn't do any of that. We all, as a group, worked on it together and tried to figure out what was wrong. That's a testament to Robbie. It's a testament to Jack - to everybody - for not giving up on that." - Matt Kenseth

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools TaurusHAS IT SUNK IN YET?MK "A little bit, but it's just really awesome to be part of this group of guys that are standing up here. I'm just really honored to be driving for this team and really honored to be up there with all of those really great Winston Cup champions. I'm just so appreciative for all the opportunities that I've had."

HOW WAS IT TO HAVE RICHARD PETTY A PART OF THIS CELEBRATION? MK "That's beyond cool. Richard Petty is the first Winston Cup champion and it's amazing to think we're the last Winston Cup champion. It's just a huge honor to even get to talk to the King and somebody that you idolized growing up as a stock car racer. I'm just so happy to be here."

WHAT DID YOU CONCENTRATE ON THIS YEAR?MK "Just to try to do a better job with the things we lacked last year. Last year, we struggled at certain tracks. This year, we were better at them. Last year, we had too many DNFs. We tried to minimize them this year, if we could. We just tried to make the bad days better.

"Overall, if you look at our year as a whole and not think about today's race or pick out one or two races, it's been a really great year for us. We've been able to run up front. We've been very competitive. At the beginning of the year, especially, we had lots of chances to win races. We were only able to win one, but we had a lot of opportunities. We put ourselves in position to win and led some laps and ran real good. We've been able to take days that looked like they were gonna be bad days and we had trouble like flat tires and stuff like that and turned them into top 10 runs. I think that's what a championship team is made of.

"I'm really proud of Robbie and all the guys for rallying around. Even last week it looked like we were gonna run 30th and we got a fourth-place finish out of it because of the job they did in the pits and the job they do on the car. I'm just really proud of my team.

"I think they did a great job of figuring out last year what we lacked as far as trying to run for a championship and did a good job of improving our weak areas. Robbie and our team, along with everybody at Roush, we had some failures last year and we didn't have as many this year. We fixed some areas where we had problems in and that helped us a lot."

JACK ROUSH, Car Owner THERE WERE NO FORDS IN THE TOP 10. WHAT DOES THAT SAY?JR "My expectation for success this year wasn't as great before the year started as it had been previously. Our car is dated and our engine is not cutting edge today in 2003.

"NASCAR has given us a new set of templates - a new nose and new tail for our Taurus configuration for next year. I knew we weren't gonna have that this year. We hadn't expected it and we didn't ask for it. It wasn't our turn and our engine has issues.

"Anyway, we made it through on the strength of the team - consistency and a good year. We were lucky not to lose tires or run over debris and lose the air in our tires at a bad time. We didn't have the problem we saw today of having right-front tires give out on tracks that are hard on right-front tires, and the pit stops were just awesome all year.

"Matt, in the early part of the year before the Chevrolets and the Dodges with their new configurations got their legs under them, we won our races and we led our races and it was wonderful. That was a surprise to me. Where we are today is pretty much where I expected we would run.

"Ricky Rudd had an engine problem and Matt had an engine problem today. Those aren't characteristic. We've got to go back and find out what happened, but the fact is - considering this was kind of a free race for us - we did some things to our engines for the 21 and for the 17 that were different than what we were running all year and that may be why we had trouble or it may not, but we need to know about that. We'd done the bench testing and it looked like it was OK and we took a chance. Everybody held hands when we did that because we've got to get better for next year.

"Given the fact we've got a new cylinder head from NASCAR going into next year and we've got a better tail and better nose for the aero function, my prospects and expectations for next year is that we will run as a five-car team better on average next year than we did this year and I think Fords will generally run better, too.

"If you look at the number of Fords that have qualified on the pole this year and the number of laps led in the second half of the year, it's real clear that something changed and what I think changed was the Chevrolet and the Pontiac and the Dodge really figured out how to capitalize on what they had in terms of aerodynamics and they did a better job with the engine than we did.

"We've been constrained with a 1992 cylinder head and everybody else has got something newer. We've got the same architecture to work in next year as far as cylinder heads are concerned as everybody else, so next year will be a no excuses deal for us. We'll make the power and we'll have a body that I think will be competitive at every place we go."

ROBBIE REISER, Crew ChiefDID IT ALL EVEN OUT TODAY - FINISHING 43RD?RR "Basically, we were fortunate to be in this spot. We came here being in that position and we were able to try something new and, obviously, it didn't work. But it's helping us learn for next season and that's what we used this race for. I think being in the position we were in, why not?"

DID YOU GET TO DO THE HONORS OF SPRAYING MIKE HELTON WITH CHAMPAGNE?JR "I want you to know that I had several half-full bottles of champagne offered to me and I did not pick one up and didn't do anything. On the other hand, this guy to my right here (Reiser), there's gonna be people looking for him from now on (laughing). He did some really bad things (laughing)."

"All I can say is I went for the biggest bottle (laughing)."

YOU'VE COME FROM THE BACK SO MANY TIMES THIS YEAR. IS THAT SKILL OR LUCK?MK "I've learned two things today. I've learned we finished last and I've learned I'm a pretty bad qualifier (laughing). If anybody else has any bad news, go ahead (laughing).

"I think, honestly, a lot of racing from the back - I'm certainly not gonna say it's an advantage because it's not - but there are certain times where I think it helps us to a certain extent. We worked on the car a lot to work in traffic and we're racing around other cars so we know what our car is gonna handle like in dirty air in that type of situation. If you do get behind toward the end of the race, it might help us a little bit. But I think learning how to race in the back came a lot from racing up in Wisconsin because when you qualified good up there, you had to start in the back.

"In the south, when you qualified good, you'd start on the pole and you could maybe lead every lap, but up there you had to learn to pass cars and race with traffic and I like racing with other cars. I'd rather start on the pole and lead all the laps, don't get me wrong, but I do like to race with other cars, especially when our car is handling good. We can kind of size up the field a little bit more and see what's going on."

WHAT ABOUT THAT BURNOUT?MK "I'm kind of like Jeff Burton in one way in that I don't usually like to tear up Jack's equipment or tear off quarter panels because the way Robbie and I grew up, we had to fix our own stuff and pay for our stuff. So I've never been big on that.

"I was in there getting ready and all my guys pushed the backup car down there and were like, 'Are you gonna tear it up or do some burnouts or melt it down or something?' I was like, 'Ah, I don't think so. I think it's kind of overrated.' They said, 'You know what you should do is go nose that thing up against the wall. I can't remember who was telling me that, but they said just ease the nose against the wall and just do a big burnout against the wall. Nobody's ever done that.' I said, 'Well, if nobody's ever done it, I guess I'll do it.' So I figured I'd make a little smoke that way. I couldn't move the wall either."

YOU ARE THE LAST WINSTON CUP CHAMPION. WHAT WILL BE GAINED AND LOST WITH NEXTEL?MK "I think what they'll gain is simple, they'll be able to advertise to more markets. You'll be able to advertise to kids. You'll be able to market the sport in ways that Winston probably couldn't market it being a tobacco product. What we're gonna lose are great friends and sponsors and people that you've seen in the garage area every weekend that have been a big part of this. Winston has sponsored NASCAR Winston Cup racing longer than I've been alive and just in the little time I've been here, they've done tremendous amounts for this sport. They've sunk tons of money into it. They've marketed us. Like I said, they've become friends. They've done things to get along with you and make it really fun at the same time as trying to grow the sport. I'm really gonna miss those guys and I'm sad to see them go."

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOUR ENGINE BLEW?MK "I was thinking about one word (laughing). What can you really say? Darn, you're done. I mean, it goes so fast. You don't really sit and think about it. It's not like a long drawn-out drama thing. You're ready to go in the corner, there's a teenie vibration and there's smoke and you shut it off and coast back to the garage. Whenever something like that happens, you know you can't fix it. That's disappointing early in the race because you know you're out. When you have a flat tire or something else happens there's a little more drama to that because you've got to figure out how to fix it and how to put your fender back on and still be competitive and not lose a lap. But when you break something that's terminal, it's just over for the day."

WERE YOU THANKFUL AFTER IT WENT? MK "Right now I'm thankful, but at that moment I wasn't thankful. At the moment you're frustrated because you're in it for that race and you're putting all your energy into that race, but, yeah, once it went I mean, overall, we've had two engine failures this year. I'm sure Jack and I and everybody wishes we'd had zero, but, still, it was a good year for us. Those were the only two mechanical failures of any kind we've had all year, so, sometimes it's gonna be your turn."

WHAT WENT INTO THE PROCESS TO ROLL THE BACKUP CAR OFF? MK "I have no idea. You'd have to talk to a different department."

CAN YOU PUT INTO WORDS THE SATISFACTION OR VINDICATION YOU FEEL?JR "I don't feel vindicated and I'm not satisfied. I guess I'm a little humbled and a little relaxed. It is a big thing. I am honored and when I came to NASCAR, I asked Les Richter for an entry and in 1988 he gave me an entry. That was huge because that meant on that day if I could go fast enough, which was for the 1988 Daytona 500, if Mark could go fast enough, we were gonna have a chance to race in front of 180,000 or 200,000 people that come down to watch a race.

"I felt that he gave me 1/43rd of an opportunity to be the focus of 1/43rd of that energy. Anybody that hasn't ridden on one of these trucks that hauls the drivers around, that hasn't been in a race car when the race has started or been where I've been - behind the pit wall when the races start and felt that energy - if there's another species of things that are alive someplace else in the universe there's probably a burst that goes out that's like a sun spot. If they've got equipment that they can pick up, it's just awesome how much energy goes with that thing.

"I remember I stood at the Charlotte race the first time they had that race at night and all the flash bulbs lit up keeping pace with the cars when they went around the race track the first time. That was awesome. That was really tremendous. Anyway, I feel humbled by the thing that I'm a part of. I'm appreciative of what Winston partnered with NASCAR to do and what they allowed me to come in and share and to bring some of my own small energy to and to share in all of that is bigger than me. It's bigger than my frustration and it's bigger than the competition that has been associated with it. It's just large and right now I'm kind of in awe."

IS IT POSSIBLE TO IMAGINE WHAT YOU'VE DONE IN SUCH A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME?RR "I think you look back at a lot of things you do in life, but to this day I think we've always looked forward. I don't think we look back. The time we went down to Daytona we had no sponsor and we didn't know if we were gonna race the next week. I don't think we ever looked backwards, we looked to what we were gonna do. There weren't a whole lot of choices. He could drive for somebody. He could have went and drove for a couple of guys and I don't understand why he didn't, but somehow we hung together.

"The way this sport is where a lot of people don't hang together, we're getting a pay back for that. I think not only when you look at Matt and myself, but you've got to look at our whole team. Our whole team is a lot like that. We've got a lot of guys that hung in there. Russ Strupp and Todd Millard and Jeff Vandermoss are all back from our days back in Wisconsin.

"It's a tribute to all those people that this whole thing worked. We were fortunate to have fathers that had racing backgrounds and understood this deal and hung in there with us. Without that, I don't think any of this would be possible."

IS IT POSSIBLE TO IMAGINE WHAT YOU'VE DONE IN SUCH A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME?MK "It's a people sport. There's a lot of people that have been with Robbie and I since we started. Since we started that five-race deal with Jack in '99, there are a couple of people Jack moved around within the organization that are still there, but I think there are maybe only two people or three people at the most that aren't with our group anymore. We might have moved some people and changed positions and this and that, but they have all stuck it out.

"Even when we had a terrible, awful year in 2001, the crew chief didn't get fired, the driver didn't get fired. We didn't do any of that. We all, as a group, worked on it together and tried to figure out what was wrong. That's a testament to Robbie. It's a testament to Jack - to everybody - for not giving up on that. I know Jack has a lot of people that have been with Roush Industries for a long, long time, too, and this is a big payback for those guys because without the equipment and without the personnel and without all the people behind you like we have, there's no way you'd ever be able to accomplish this.

"I guess when I think back about the people and stuff, the more I think about the people that have been on my crews through the years, the people that let me drive their cars through the years. The people that I raced against and the people that sponsored the cars. Anyone who got us enough money and gathered it up where we could go race because me and my dad could only afford to race so much. I had a guy's car that I'd drive on Thursday nights and then I had another guy's car that I would drive on Saturday nights somewhere. I had two or three different owners at one time just so I could race as much as I could. I think about all those people being a step in the ladder and without any of those steps, I don't think you'd ever get to the top."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT WISCONSIN DRIVERS?RR "I think the biggest thing is it's probably a family sport up there. All of the guys that do a lot of racing up there, their fathers raced, their kids raced - that type of thing. All of us had to build equipment from square one. We had to pay for it. We had to race it. We had to work on it. That's how you did it up there. We could race so many racetracks. I raced against Matt. We probably raced against each other Thursday through Sunday every weekend and then we went and ran specials on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday we raced against each other. You could run probably 70 shows, I think, from April to September and you'd run on all different type of racetracks. Flat tracks, banked tracks - and the competition was pretty fierce.

"Everybody knows Dick Trickle and that legendary program there. We raced against those type of competitors every night and that's what built this thing for Wisconsin racing."

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT BEING THE LAST WINSTON CUP CHAMPION?MK "Not really. I haven't thought of my place in history yet because I hope I have a lot more to make. I haven't really looked back at it that way, but I have sure felt honored to be part of the group that have been Winston Cup champions and for our team to be part of that. There aren't many people that even get the chance to race at this level let alone be successful and drive for a championship team. It was a really special today when I got to do that victory lap with Richard Petty being the first Winston Cup champion in '71, I think it was, and then we're the last one. It's kind of an end of an era there with Winston being part of this sport. It was pretty cool to be able to put the flag up there with my name on it with all those other champions. It's a really special thing and it's pretty unbelievable."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITIES YOU'LL HAVE AS A CHAMPION?MK "I'm looking forward to going to New York and doing all that stuff. When we finished eighth last year, I wasn't really looking forward to going up on stage and giving a speech and doing all that, but this year I'm really looking forward to it.

"I think when you do stuff like that, it's all what you make of it. If you go into with a positive attitude, you're gonna have fun doing it. I think the coolest thing is we'll be able to do stuff that we never, ever in our whole lives would have gotten to experience if it wasn't for what we accomplished this year - like meeting the President and going on some of those TV shows and doing some of those things. That's something I'm really gonna enjoy and that's something I'm really gonna enjoy. That's something I'm really gonna look forward to and think of that week as a big celebration for my team and for Jack and for my teammates and everybody that's been able to accomplish this."

YOU'LL HAVE A LOT OF FUN THINGS TO DO.MK "Yeah, it'll be cool. I'm looking forward to doing all that kind of stuff. It's cool to be able to do all that, especially in the off season before we get back to racing real hard and testing and doing all that stuff. I'm looking forward to going up there."



Loading Comments...