By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Year in, and year out Matt Kenseth is a fixture inside the top-12 of the point standings. This past week the 38-year-old driver from Cambridge, Wisconsin clinched his sixth career chase berth with an 11th-place finish in Atlanta. Kenseth was able to take time out to chat with me about everything from the pressures of the chase, to who he could take in a fight, to even how he likes to drink his Crown Royal.
If you don’t know much about the driver of the No. 17 car, sit back and enjoy this intimate interview. You will find among other things, that he has one of the best sense of humors in the entire garage area.
Toby Christie: You are one of five drivers without a win inside the top-12 in points. Do you think it is realistic for yourself or anyone else to take home the Sprint Cup without winning a race?
Matt Kenseth: I don’t know if it’s realistic, but it’s certainly possible. I can almost promise you that if someone ran second for ten weeks in a row they would win the championship.
I mean it’s certainly possible, It’s probably not likely. I think whoever wins the championship is going to win some races probably throughout the season, or probably in the chase.
So I mean I think you need to be up front every week lead some laps and maybe win some races down the stretch to have a shot.
TC: How rewarding would it be, to join Tony Stewart as the only drivers to ever win a title under both point systems?
MK: Well that would be pretty neat. Every year you start the season with the goal of trying to win a championship, so whatever system they end up giving us you want to try to figure that out and try to win the championship under that scenario.
So certainly that is always a goal of ours.
TC: Which points system has caused more pressure for you? Was it the season long points race, or is it the newer chase format?
MK: You know it really depends on the situation you are in and how you are running. I don’t think it’s possible, even though we had a good lead in 2003 (The final year without the chase), and won it a week early and all that, I don’t think it’s possible to have that much pressure in an entire year. That’s nine months of racing or whatever it is, and every point and every lap of that whole nine months was pressure packed for us.
We had to worry about every point every week, where if you are a very competitive front running team like you’ve seen the 29 (Harvick) this year for instance there probably hasn’t been any pressure this season, because they’ve been pretty solidly in the chase from week one.
So I think it all depends, within the last ten weeks, it will obviously be pretty pressure packed for the 12 cars that are in the chase, trying to make a run for the championship.
TC: What is your favorite track on or off the circuit?
MK: My favorite track to go to is Dover. I’ve always enjoyed going there. It’s a really high banked fast one-mile concrete oval, so you know it’s always been my favorite.
TC: Tony Stewart finally got his first win of the season, but Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and yourself among numerous others are still win-less. Why do you think some of the more popular drivers in the sport are going through rough stretches right now?
MK: Well it’s hard, your popularity doesn’t dictate whether you get to victory lane or not. It’s really hard it doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, last year, five years ago, ten years ago, you have to be able to do it every week. There is a lot of competition, and everything has to go just right to win races.
It’s hard to do, sometimes you go through those streaks where everything goes your way. Even when you’re having a bad day you end up getting lucky and pulling off a good finish. Then you go through times where even when you’re running good things don’t line up at the end of the day, and you don’t get that win or good finish.
TC: Total hypothetical question time… If you for some reason had to give up your spot in the chase, which of the guys currently outside of the chase would you like to see inside the top-12?
MK: Um, I mean honestly I just worry about myself. Everyone else has to be able to do their own thing and get in. I don’t even have a good answer for that question.
I’ve got guys that are better friends than others, or guys I get along better than others, or team cars or whatever you’d like to see have success. But you know I don’t really care, all I care about is the 17.
We wanna win, and get in the chase, and try to win a championship. That’s really all we concentrate on. I mean I love to see where everybody else stacks up, but I don’t really wish he was there, or wish he wasn’t or what have you.
TC: If Brian France came up to you and said: You know what I’m stepping down and putting you in charge of this whole thing, what’s the first thing you would change?
MK: I would just say, No penalties. Nah, I don’t know, I don’t really have one thing that I would change. I mean there are smarter people than me in charge. I mean I’d probably have a basket of things I’d like to adjust or do different just on the competition side of things.
TC: Do you think we will see another round of the Matt Kenseth versus Jeff Gordon rivalry this year?
MK: Oh, you never know, I kinda hope not (Laughter).
TC: Ryan Newman has been in some altercations lately. Now remember this is hypothetical, do you think in a fight, you could take him?
MK: Who? Newman? I don’t think in a fight I could take anybody. TV makes me look a little bigger, but I’m not really that big. So I don’t really care to ever fight anybody.
TC: You are a father of two, what are your thoughts on the current baby-boom in NASCAR?
MK: It’s exciting, a lot of our friends are having babies. A lot of people for Kaylin to play with. So it’ll be fun.
TC: Speaking of family, who wears the firesuit in your family? You the championship superstar driver or your wife Katie?
MK: Anybody who has kids know that you’re kids wear the firesuit probably. So probably Kaylin, yeah probably her.
TC: You’re a Wisconsin native, and a die-hard Packers fan. Aaron Rodgers is beginning to come into his own, what is your prediction for the Packers in 2010?
MK: Well I don’t make a lot of predictions, but I mean it’s kind of like any other sport. It’s kinda easy to talk about it, but you have to go out on the field, or on the track or whatever and you have to do it and get results. So I think they have a great team.
In my mind Aaron Rodgers is the top-two or three quarterback in the entire league right now, so they got the tools certainly on offense to put up a lot of points and be competitive. If they can improve the defense just a little bit from last year, I think they’re certainly capable of being a contender.
TC: You have won a Sprint Cup Championship in 2003, The Daytona 500 in 2009, You’ve won the all-star race, what else is there left for Matt Kenseth to achieve, What is left to cross off on your racing bucket list?
MK: Well man you want to win every week, you know. We haven’t won for what a year and a half now? So certainly getting back to victory lane is on my mind right now. We haven’t been able to do that near regularly enough.
We’d like to get back to being a contender up there again, and pushing them top guys for wins and championships. So certainly win another championship.
If I had to pick out races, I think everyone would want to win the Brickyard. That’s probably on the top of my list to win at the Brickyard. After that probably Darlington, Darlington has been one of the most historic tracks that we race on, so to try to get a win there would be pretty cool.
TC: Your sponsor Crown Royal has a great partnership with Richmond, obviously with their “Your Name Here 400” promotions over the past few years. From what I hear there is an announcement regarding that program. Also I’m sure a lot of people want to know how do you like to drink your Crown Royal?
MK: Hehe, Usually with a little Ginger Ale. Um, yeah they do a lot of cool stuff. They are doing the race Matt promotion, which I think is the most exciting one of the year, to be able to race me at the end of the year at Vegas I believe for a million dollars so that’s pretty cool.
Yeah they’ve been doing the ‘Your Name Here’ program at the spring race at Richmond for quite a few years now, and this year they changed it up a little to honor military members. So it was the Heath Calhoun 400 this year.
We are getting ready to start the competition to find the person they want to name it after next spring where they’ll announce the finalists at Daytona and pick out the winner of that.
So go to NASCAR.com/CrownRoyal and you can enter the contest and read all about it there.