Kenseth says ‘whole dynamic’ needed change week into season after year without winning a raceBy Stephen Hawkins, AP
Friday, February 19, 2010
Kenseth says needed change became obvious
FONTANA, Calif. — Matt Kenseth says it became obvious that something had to change when his crew members were becoming too much like him.
“You guys say I don’t show emotion sometimes. I kind of felt like the whole group was sort of like that,” Kenseth said Friday, explaining an unexpected crew chief change made after only one race. “I just felt like it needed something to throw a spark in the thing.”
Back in California where Kenseth got his last victory a year ago, Todd Parrott replaces Drew Blickensderfer atop the No. 17 Ford pit box this weekend.
After Blickensderfer became his crew chief last year, Kenseth won at Daytona and California to become the first driver since 1997 to win the first two races of the season. That momentum didn’t carry over because Kenseth hasn’t won since, and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the first time.
But instead of making a change during the offseason, Kenseth made the move after an eighth-place finish at Daytona last weekend, when he managed a top-10 finish after running in the middle of the pack most of Sunday’s race.
“We were just missing something on the team,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t feel the way we operated at Daytona that we could win races and win championships.”
Kenseth took the blame for the timing of the switch, explaining that team owner Jack Roush asked him at the end of last season if any changes needed to be made. At the time, Kenseth felt like everything was OK and that Blickensderfer deserved the benefit of a full season and full offseason.
“It’s really hard to explain the timing of the change. It doesn’t make any sense,” Kenseth said. “Instead of dragging it out, it was just something that needed to be done. … Get a head start on this thing instead of waiting until we’re halfway into the season and it’s too late to dig ourselves out.”
Roush described himself as “really conflicted” about the switch but said that it became clear when he met with general manager Robbie Reiser and Kenseth this week that the change was necessary. Roush said there was “zero sponsor pressure” for a switch.
The team owner also, without elaborating, used the term “interim” concerning the role for Parrott, who was the crew chief when Dale Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship.
Blickensderfer is expected to move into the research and development department for Roush Fenway Racing, the role Parrott had for the team.
“We weren’t able to get the chemistry to work as it needed to,” Roush said. “By putting Matt and Todd together at this time, we’re putting together champions.”
Greg Biffle, who finished third at Daytona, said the switch will have a ripple effect through entire team.
“That probably hurts me a little bit as far as Todd was a great asset in the position he was in with the research and develop and kind of floating between all the cars,” Biffle said. “He’ll be very good with Matt. Todd’s proven himself as a crew chief over and over.”
Roush Fenway has won the past five February races at California, with Kenseth winning three of the past four. Biffle won in 2005 and Carl Edwards went to victory lane three years ago.
Kenseth said he expected to remain “really good friends” with Blickensderfer but that the team needed an experienced strong leader like Parrott.
“When Todd first comes in here and talks, his voice kind of thunders through the room,” Kenseth said. “It just didn’t feel like everybody came in the truck fired up to go win races.”
Kenseth envisions somebody firing up the team similar to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees during the Saints’ Super Bowl championship season. But Kenseth doesn’t see himself as being Brees-like.
“I’m not a very good leader, I’ll admit that. I’m probably not the guy to do that,” Kenseth said. “Something needed to change. Unfortunately it usually starts with the driver and crew chief. … We needed something to change to see if it’s different or better, get everybody on the same page and really lead the group.”
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