Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Kentucky Speedway – July 7, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was made available to the media at Kentucky Speedway:
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Circle K Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Talk about coming to Kentucky and what you expect this weekend?
“We’ve done okay here. Last year we ran much better than our finishing position. We just – I think there were seven of them that made it on fuel in front of us and we didn’t make it, but it’s been a good track. We’ve performed pretty well here in the past, but this is the third different configuration I guess we’ve raced on – our second repave. I don’t really know what we’re going to have here until really we get going. It’s been a good track. I enjoy it.”
Are you surprised by the slow start for Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I mean it’s a little surprising, but yet I’ve been doing this for quite a while and you have ups and downs. Certainly, you know, since this is my fifth year at JGR and ’13 was a spectacular year how we performed – you know we came up short in a couple areas, but we ran really well. And 2014 we ran, you know, really really bad and only had a couple wins I think throughout the whole organization. One of them was a superspeedway win. ’15 was really strong. ‘16 was pretty strong and you know this year we just seem to be you know off a little bit. We do seem to be running much better lately. We’ve had a hard time of turning those good runs or better ones into finishes a lot, unfortunately. But I feel like we’re definitely in the upswing. Kyle (Busch) has been fast enough to win three or four races if all those circumstances would’ve went right. We’ve had one or two where I thought we were competitive enough if under the right circumstances – you know without mistakes or problems, where maybe we could’ve won. I feel like we’re getting closer to that. We just got to get things to go our way a little bit.”
Why the slow start at the beginning of the season?
“Well, I mean honestly I don’t know. I mean I can speculate like everybody else. I mean I think when I look at just the 20, you know we’ve certainly had, I think on average – especially to start out the year a lot of problems kind of executing. You know what I mean like whether it’s me making a mistake or things not going right or something out of our control – getting in a wreck. We had some hard wrecks early in the year I felt like we couldn’t really avoid. Maybe one or two that we could’ve, but some that we couldn’t. We just had a lot of things go wrong. Our performance hasn’t been as good as it needs to be either, but as far as how bad the finishes are and how many DNFs we have and everything, I mean that’s a lot of circumstances and execution and being in the right place and that type of thing.”
Do you anticipate that this race will be a little better than it has been in previous years due to the repave?
“I don’t know if it will be better than it was before they repaved it last year. But I do think that you know, for whatever reason, whether it’s Goodyear with the tire matching up to less down force or if it’s something different they’re doing with the pavement, it’s been a lot better than typical repaves. The repave here last year, even Texas this year was much better, more forgiving than a typical repave. I feel like they’re making progress on that, whatever they’re doing. I think the racing will be okay. I don’t think it’s going to be super wide, but it was pretty good last year and there’s a lot of laps on the track this weekend, so hopefully it will be good.”
Do you know where you’re going to race Cup next year and are you worried if you don’t know where you’re going to be yet?
“I’m not really worried about it. As of today I do not have a job for next year. I certainly hope to still be racing. I think I got some wins left in me and hopefully can race for championships. Right now my focus is on finishing up this year. As we talked about, it’s been kind of a slow start. It has not been a good year at all. Not nearly up to my standards or my team’s standards. You know really trying to get back to victory lane. Hopefully get qualified for the playoffs here and have a shot at a championships is pretty much focus at this point.”
Is Joe Gibbs Racing still an option?
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it is. Like I said, I don’t have a ride at this moment for next year. I haven’t really worked on anything real hard. I do not think I will have the option to race at JGR next year, unfortunately.”
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving this year, is the No. 88 an option for next year?
“You know, I probably already said too much about what I’m not doing next year, so I don’t really have anything to talk about for what I am doing. Like I said, at this point – at this point, I don’t have anything going on for next year and pretty focused on trying to get running better this year and winning some races.”
Halfway through this season, do you like the way stage racing has come this year and how it has played out?
“You know I think every race is different. I think the racing has been exciting. I think, you know to watch it from a fan’s standpoint, I think that there’s been some definitely exciting moments and it’s mixed up strategy and things like that. I probably don’t watch or rewatch all the Cup races right when I’m done maybe as much as some of the other series. Some of the other series with the shorter races, you know sometimes the stages seem a little short. Maybe they could be a little bit longer. But with our races they seem like they’re pretty good lengths and it seems to mix things up pretty good. I don’t know. This year starting off hasn’t been a good year starting. We didn’t qualify well or we had problems. We’ve finished okay sometimes, but wouldn’t get any stage points and there’s just a ton of points to be gained or lost there, so wish we had more than we did at this point. If you can go out and get a win, I guess that gets you to the next part of the season you want to get to and you go from there. It’s been okay. I think it’s nice to know when the cautions are coming out.”
Considering where you are in points are you overly concerned about making the playoffs?
“I don’t know if concerned is the right work. I mean certainly we’re not in a great spot. I almost feel like you know with the race team that I drive for and the people on my particular team as far as the 20 and the things we do, if we can’t be one of the 16 cars, kind of shame on us. I feel like it’s a great race team and I’ve never really worried about it a lot, but certainly we’re not in a great spot now that the point system is a lot different than it’s ever been again. We got way behind on points at the beginning of the year with the wrecks and the DNFs and all that stuff. It’s just the spot we’re in. We’re winless as a company in July like you said. We need to go out and win and that will take care of a lot of problems. Right on the edge right there for sure. If we don’t have some real good weeks here the last few weeks before the Chase, however many weeks are left. You get one or two more different winners that haven’t won yet, certainly there’s not many spots left.”
Is there anything that leads to Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski’s success at Kentucky?
“Last year was a little different. I felt like we could’ve raced Brad (Keselowski) for sure and just couldn’t make it on fuel. So last year ended up being a fuel mileage race. For sure those guys are really good. Brad I think the year before they repaved it just annihilated the field. He was so good when the track was rough. The track has changed a lot. Turn 3 is definitely one of the trickiest parts you know to get through turn three, stable and still get off turn four without being too tight, that’s always the tricky balance down there, particularly the traffic and depending on the wind and things like that, but that’s definitely the trickiest part of the track. There’s just really no banking there and it’s kind of a sharp entry, so that’s one part you’re always working on.”
Has the tire dragon and compound going down on the track this year been more advantageous to you?
“I think that when they lay some rubber down on the track, it certainly seems to help a little bit. I haven’t been on the track here yet since they’ve paved it – repaved it again. It does seem to help a little bit. I’m kind of in the camp as everybody it seems like. It’d make more sense to drag it up higher so we can possibly have a second groove and possibly move up the race track especially when you get to the Cup cars. The trucks I know are probably pretty close to wide open and XFINITY cars not quite as much and then us not quite as much again. The more you slowdown in the corner, the more it’s nice to have some options to move up and kind of get some rubber in the track.”