Toyota Racing – Matt Kenseth
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Talladega Superspeedway – October 13, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was made available to the media at Talladega Superspeedway:
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How do you and the No. 20 team feel heading into the final superspeedway of the season?
“How we feel? We feel great. You want more than that? Yeah, I mean, feel as good as you can ever feel. Going into Talladega, you never can tell what’s going to happen here. You know, the way everybody kind of practices today, gets ready to qualify and all that, you never really know how much speed you have until the race gets started, you get racing with everybody. So just kind of looking forward to getting through the next two days and get racing Sunday.”
During the broadcast last week in Charlotte, it was said that Jason Ratcliff had mentioned how the longer you guys go into the season without winning, it’s been starting to weigh on the team’s confidence. Is there anything to that?
“I don’t know that it necessarily weighs on everybody’s confidence that much. But with that being said, certainly it’s been a long time, way too long, since we’ve won a race, especially considering the equipment we’re in and all that. It sure would be a boost to everybody’s confidence if you could get that win, get everything to go right, execute and finish it off, get to Victory Lane. It always boosts your confidence, I think, no matter where you are or how long it’s been since you’ve won.”
Did you know and did your team know you can tighten lug nuts outside your pit box? What do you think of the fact that not all teams know the rules going forward?
“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t really have much of an opinion on it because I don’t really know a lot about it. I haven’t really asked Jason about it. And honestly in the conversation with Jason and I, it didn’t really come up this week. I couldn’t give you an honest answer whether he knew you could do that or not.”
Have you had any productive talks about next year with anybody in the last few weeks?
“No, it probably weighs on me way less today than it did probably a few months ago. Had some real productive talks with Katie (wife). We’re going to run another day. Had a real, long productive talk together. That was enjoyable (smiling). It’s true, we did. Talked about it a lot.”
Knowing this potentially could be your last race here, do you have kind of a sense of melancholy going into the weekend, racing at Talladega for maybe the last time?
“No, I mean, I think except for the very first time you come here, every time you come here you think it possibly could be your last race here (laughter). I don’t really feel any different today than any other time except for the first time I came here.”
Ryan Blaney said this race would be more aggressive because of the points racing. But you race hard every single race. When you hear that from another driver, what do you think about what might play out?
“Just think there will be more cars in the crash. You know, typically I don’t know if it will be more aggressive. I think what he’s most likely saying is that last year at this race, there was some strategy played. I was one of the cars that got together, that we needed not a disaster to make the next round, we needed, I don’t know, I don’t remember anymore, a 20th‑place finish or something like that. So you try to kind of hang out in the back, just make sure you don’t lose the draft, in case there’s any wrecks, you’re not in it, then get to where you need to be at the end of the race. So I think with the stages and it being the second race of the round, all that, I think probably what he’s saying is you’re going to race for position every single lap of every race with the stages and the points you’re going to need to try to transfer to the next round.”
How would you battle out for the extra points in the stages? At what point during those stages did you actually try to turn it up and get as aggressive or whatever you want to call it?
“Yeah, I mean, I think you try to keep that track position the whole time, if possible. I’ve been fortunate a few times, had some pretty fast cars here where you could kind of control the flow and the pace of the race. It was hard to get shuffled out, that type of thing. So I think you hope for that kind of speed, then you hope to make the right decisions and try to stay there the whole time. It’s harder to go from the back to the front than what it used to be, especially if nobody’s on the kind of ‘hang out and hope it’s the direct strategy’ and you’re not in it. It’s harder to get back to the front because it gets side‑by‑side, plugged up, and there’s not a lot of places to go. I think you try to race hard to keep that track position the whole race, if you can.”
What would make you happy next year?
“You know, I was thinking about maybe driving a school bus. I thought it would be fun. I drive the kids to school every morning. I enjoy that. I thought it would be fun to drive them home, too.”
Think it would pay enough?
“I think I’ll be okay. We’ll eat either way.”
In regards to sponsorship and the way the economy has reset, has it surprised you how quickly it has happened, how differently it has affected certain drivers?
“Yes and no. I mean, I feel like in a way, I mean, on a big scheme of things, I feel like things have happened quickly, but yet on the other hand it kind of does surprise me how, you know, the reset, if you want to call it that, hasn’t been totally linear. Some people have been able to make it work, some people haven’t. Certainly right now is a very interesting time. I think it’s a very tough time for car owners to find the money that they need to field competitive racecars with competitive personnel. I think it’s probably harder than at least it’s been since I’ve been around. And the cost is higher than when I started, as well. Certainly a challenging environment. I think there’s a lot of positives. Hopefully it will start to turn back the other direction.”
Dale Jr. said this week he wanted to have that helmet visor cam because it motivates him, he wants to give fans something to watch, he wants to make moves that they’re going to want to watch. We often hear drivers say, Look, you’re just motivated to race and everything. Is he a different breed that he enjoys the show so much?
“Man, that wasn’t a question I was expecting. I think, you know, I’ve seen that visor cam thing, I mean. I don’t have any interest in having it really because then people could see how dumb I am and the bad moves that I make. But it looks kind of like a video game. I feel like I watch that and I’m, like, I’m glad it doesn’t look like that out of my eyes because it’s kind of making me dizzy. It’s a crazy different view, how much everything moves and all that. You don’t really realize that while you’re driving the car. So it’s a really cool view. Yeah, I mean, he’s into all that stuff. I think that is cool for the fans to be able to see the shot pretty much exactly what the driver sees. Certainly through the years, nobody has been better at Talladega than him. I could see why he would kind of want that and it can kind of go through kind of what he’s going through on the racetrack.”
Are you open to driving anything next year? Would you drive full‑time XFINITY? Does it have to be Cup? Would you just kind of go away if you don’t have a good Cup situation?
“Is that a job offer? Oh, you’re not fielding a car. I don’t know if that was what the phone call was, somebody was hiring you for GM (laughter). The school bus thing is appealing. No, I don’t know. I mean, I said a few weeks ago I wasn’t going to talk about next year any more, as long as we’re alive in the Playoffs, which we’re certainly not one of the favorites right now, we haven’t done the things we wanted to do, but we’re certainly still alive. Anything can happen this weekend. Kansas is a great track for us. I’m honestly just focused on the next six weeks or whatever it is at the moment.”
You’ve run on restrictor plate tracks for, what, 20, 30 years, however long you’ve been around.
“30 years, really (smiling)?”
Has your approach to these races changed over time? Do you come into these races with a sense of dread?
“30 years (smiling)? My rookie year was 2000, by the way. Really be 18, because I count 2000, add 17 onto that.”
You had the one start the year before.
“But that wasn’t on a plate race (smiling).”
Has your approach changed to these races? How do you look at them? We hear guys go, I hate running here, I wish we never ran here. Other guys, it’s not bad. What is your outlook?
“I kind of enjoy it until you crash. So, I mean, I think the longer you do it, the more times you’ve crashed, in a way kind of the less you maybe enjoy it. But it’s intense. I’ve had some very enjoyable races here where we’ve had some fast cars, you can kind of control the pack. It makes it so much easier to make the moves that look like the right moves. But when your car is somewhat average, you know, it makes every move kind of look bad. It’s not as fun. You get shuffled out, get in bad situations. It’s just there’s a lot out of your control. It’s not necessarily that you don’t enjoy it. I don’t know that the strategy’s changed a lot through the years. Maybe the last few years since the Chase started, depending where you were in points, the strategies might be a little bit different, where maybe you’re a little less aggressive, towards the end of the race hesitant to make that move so you don’t get shuffled out, lose the points, that type of thing. Other than that, I don’t think the strategy changes that much. You always want to be there at the end. You also realize you have to be in that lead group. You have to be up there during the day a little bit to kind of feel what everybody else has going on, who has the fast cars, kind of the moves they’re making, where they’re strong, where they’re weak, that type of thing. It’s important to be up in that top few as much as you can really, I feel like, to learn as much as you can.”
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