In the Fast Lane with Matt Kenseth

As a matter of fact, Matt Kenseth looks prepared to win in 2017. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

As a matter of fact, Matt Kenseth looks prepared to win in 2017. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Arguably, Matt Kenseth’s dedication towards excellence is matched by his uncanny wit and humor, a rarity in NASCAR.

For this reason, the 45-year-old Cambridge, WI native remains one of the popular racers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  Still, his dry sense of humor is a badge of honor, even for those just interviewing him for the first time.

Of course, most are curious about the 2003 Cup champion’s future after this season.  Be that as it may, Kenseth’s focus remains on a strong finish in 2017, not so much about his plans in the new year.

At any rate, it has been an interesting campaign for the 38-time Cup race winner.  For starters, three grinding crashes in the first five events isn’t characteristic for Kenseth.  Naturally, frustration became prevalent for the usually mild mannered veteran.

However, that is why this cagey racer has compiled a successful legacy on the track.  Accordingly, Kenseth logged eight top-fives and 14 top-10’s through the first 29 races of the year, pitting him in the Round of 12 playoff field.

Nevertheless, the attention for Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff is on scoring that first win of the year.  With a strong top-five effort at Loudon, NH, it would be foolish to count the No. 20 team out of the championship picture.

Recently, I interviewed Kenseth to get his thoughts on the season, gamesmanship, and music.  Suffice to say, the man of few words was articulate, kind, and down to earth.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get “In the Fast Lane with Matt Kenseth” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  Following the slow start earlier this year, you and the 20 team are in the playoffs. While you mentioned that finishing races is your main goal, how confident do you feel about scoring your first win of 2017, particularly at a place like Loudon or other venues down the stretch?

Presently, Kenseth's championship prospects continue in the Round of 12. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Presently, Kenseth’s championship prospects continue in the Round of 12. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Matt Kenseth :  It’s not our goal just to finish races, that’s for sure.  We know we need to win.  Loudon’s been one of our best tracks but we really do our best everywhere.  When our team is strong, we can be competitive everywhere and win everywhere if everything goes right.

I always look forward to coming up here.  It’s a great track.  We’ve had some success lately and hopefully, we can continue that.

RT :  You and crew chief Jason Ratcliff have strong rapport since first coming together in 2013. What are some things that Jason has brought to the table that’s further strengthened you as a driver?

MK :  Well, there’s a lot of things.  Certainly, since I’ve come to JGR, we’ve ran well more than we’ve ran bad.  Jason is a great crew chief and a good leader.  He’s good at getting the cars right for me, so yea, it’s been good.

RT :  Do you feel like there’s a point where he knows exactly what adjustment to make after you’ve given him feedback?

MK :  Some days, it feels like that.  Some days, it doesn’t! (laughs) Yea, some days, it’s just not that easy!  I think he knows what I’m saying and understands what we’re talking about.

I think our communication is good.  It’s just competitive out there.  Some days, it’s easier to get the car right.

RT :  Over the years, we’ve seen NASCAR evolve and change since you first game onto the scene in this sport in 1997. How important is it for you as a driver to resonate with the newer fans and older fans?

MK :  I don’t know.  Things change through the years, especially through technology, media, social media, and the internet.  All that stuff has changed throughout the last 20 years.

I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about it to be honest with you.  I’m focused on trying to make the racecars fast and winning races.  That’s what I was hired for and it’s what I try to do.

RT :  What’s perhaps been the biggest change in the sport since you’ve come along that you’ve really liked?

MK :  The only one I’ve liked?  You know, they probably missed the mark on the first design of the car.  But probably this car.  They’ve made the car that much safer.  There’s a lot more room inside and it’s a bigger car.

I think that’s been a plus and once they redid the new bodies, they looked good and more like a passenger car.  I think when they redid the car the second time around, they did a good job with that.

RT :  Politicking is definitely not a new aspect to NASCAR. We’ve seen some war of words from Brad Keselowski.  That said, does it get a bit old when drivers take to social media or the press to clamor for a rules change?

Above all, Kenseth doesn't concern himself too much with gamesmanship. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Above all, Kenseth doesn’t concern himself too much with gamesmanship. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

MK :  I don’t pay a lot of attention to Brad and especially what he says in the media and all that kind of stuff.  Everybody has their own agenda.

Unfortunately, today is the day with intense media and social media coverage and all that stuff.  There can be a lot of pressure put on.  Changes are made from outside pressure and people on social media or TV shows, or whatever, I think that at times, all of us, even the sanctioning body, are sensitive to that.

I don’t really know but I think Brad’s strategy is to keep crying about it as much as he can and somehow, it helps him.

RT :  Let’s go off track, if you will. You were sponsored during the Loudon weekend by SiriusXM and I understand that you got to play 15 of your favorite heavy metal songs back in 2015. How’d that opportunity come about and might there be a return visit as a DJ in the future?

MK :  I don’t know if I would ever do it again.  I’m not sure.  It was fun.  I don’t know where it came from originally but I had a good time.  I got to play a lot of old music that I really liked on Ozzy’s Boneyard and I had fun with it.  It was a good time.

RT :  Do you sometimes listen to that music to get hyped or do you always have that game face ready?

MK :  Yea, not so much.  I’m usually driving my kids around so I don’t get to listen to my kind of music. Sometimes, when I’m driving by myself to the shop or after I’ve dropped them off at school, I’ll turn on more of the stuff that I like.  Typically, I don’t listen to it before the races really that much.

RT : Let’s do a little Free Association. Tell me the first thing that comes to mind with the following:

Family.

MK :  Family?  I think of my family.

RT :  Favorite NASCAR locale to visit.

MK :  (mulls) Man, that’s a good question.  Location, it’s probably Sonoma.  It’s my least favorite racetrack but my favorite location.

RT :  Is there a favorite track in mind but not so much the location?

MK :  I really like Dover.  Dover’s been my favorite track.  I don’t mind the location either but I really like that racetrack.

RT :  Rivals.

MK :  I don’t know.  Whoever’s beating you at the time.

RT :  Guilty pleasure TV a show.

MK :  Hmm…man, I don’t know.  Kate and I have a few shows that we try to watch every once in a while.  I enjoy football once that season starts.  I don’t know.  That’s a good question!

RT :  Regrets.

Ultimately, Kenseth has a philosophical perspective on life experiences. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Ultimately, Kenseth has a philosophical perspective on life experiences. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

MK :  Regrets?  I don’t really have any of them now to be honest with you.  I think everybody looks at that different.

Obviously, you can go through your life and figure out a million things that you shouldn’t have done.  When it’s over, you’re like, “I shouldn’t have done that, I should’ve done it differently.”  On the other hand, it’s who we are.

RT : It’s no secret that you’re a Packers fan so I’ve got to ask, from one Green Bay supporter to another, is this the year in which we’ll see them score their first Super Bowl since 2010?

MK :  I think it’s pretty early to make that prediction.  They looked great in Week 1 but in Week 2, they didn’t look quite as good.  Atlanta was real stout.  I was watching the TV and saw the injury report for Week 3 which doesn’t look good at all.  Everybody’s hurt.

I don’t know.  I feel they’ve got great coaches and a good quarterback.  They’ve got a lot of talent there so hopefully!

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Matt Kenseth for this awesome opportunity at New Hampshire! In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Matt and his No. 20 team, “Follow” them on Twitter, “Like” their Facebook page, and “Visit” their official website!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it’s about anything with an engine and four wheels, you’ll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *