He may be only competing in a part-time role; may have been unceremonially dumped for a younger driver last year, and have an uncertain future, but none of that seems to bother him. In fact, not much gets Matt Kenseth riled up.
The 2003 Cup champion was brought back to the team he started with this season, but only in a part time role.
Kenseth is back art Darlington this weekend as part that part time role with Roush-Fenway Racing, the team he started racing fulltime in the cup series with in 2000.
“I’ve always thought the Southern 500 was one of the biggest three or four races of the year in my mind,” Kenseth said Friday. “I remember watching this race before I started driving and watching the Cup races when I was still running the Busch Series races, and it was one I looked forward to every year. It’s still the same way. It’s fun to come down here, especially on Labor Day Weekend. I think when we were fortunate enough to win this race in 2013 it was one of the most exciting wins I’ve probably ever had. It’s a really neat track.”
Roush-Fenway has been struggling the last few seasons and bringing the veteran Kenseth back to share a seat with Trevor Bayne was supposed to help get feedback the team can use to improve.
It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Even that however doesn’t fluster the normally calm, cool and collected Kenseth.
Weiner whistles however seem to be a different story. Friday reps from Kenseth’s sponsor for the weekend, Oscar Mayer, were handing out small wiener shaped whistles to the members of the media while Kenseth was taking questions.
“Honestly, the hardest part (about returning to racing) has been these guys handing out wiener whistles in the middle of me doing this,” Kenseth said his dry humor very much in evidence. “It’s very distracting. Everybody is looking at them and laughing and giggling and wondering what they’re supposed to do with them”
After the laughter subsided, Kenseth said it has been hard coming back in a part time role for the team.
“Probably the hardest part is just kind of coming in somewhat mid-season, partial-season, doing part-time and trying to get some momentum and trying to get the lay of the land and trying to get things rolling,” he said. “The hardest part just has been a different role and there’s just a lot to learn and a lot to take in and a lot of differences, so just trying to figure out the people and the system again and kind of where we were at, where we need to go, that type of thing.”
One thing Kenseth doesn’t have to worry about are points; as it turns out however, he never has.
“Contrary to popular belief, I have never raced for points,” he said. “I’ve raced each race to try to go out and do the best I could, try to win, try to finish that race as high as you can if you can’t win, and that’s not really any different of an outlook as it is today.”
“But one thing I have learned from being at home and watching TV is as much as we try to make everything not about points, that’s all you hear on TV is points, points, points all the time. So I don’t want to hear it anymore. I just show up to race and try to finish the best I can. That’s all I’ve ever really done, it’s just this big conception that everybody is like, ‘You race for points.’ Well, the better you run or the better you finish you always just got more. That’s just the way it worked.”
As for what might be ahead for Kenseth, he’s not ready to look that far.
“I’m just kind of honestly trying to concentrate on the rest of this season and trying to get this done,” he said. “Those are probably things to talk about at a later date, but the season has been up-and-down. I wish our results were better than what they were, but yet on the other hand I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t really show necessarily on the stat sheets or the box score all the time, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress and really just trying to keep that going and keep moving forward and keep trying to get more competitive by the end of the season.”