NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Q&A with driver Matt Kenseth

jutter@charlotteobserver.comApril 17, 2014 

— Matt Kenseth has run consistently strong virtually each week, he has had none of the engine issues that plagued him early last season and he’s second in the Sprint Cup Series standings after eight races.

Yet something is missing – wins.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be so glaring if it not for the fact Kenseth was the series’ most prolific visitor to Victory Lane in 2013 with seven victories.

Kenseth has been good during his second season with Joe Gibbs Racing, just not good enough. His best finish is a pair of fourths – at Fontana, Calif., and last weekend at Darlington, S.C. Yet he has not finished worse than 13th.

At this point a year ago, Kenseth and his No. 20 Toyota team had a pair of victories.

“It’s been interesting because there’s been a lot of different winners and been some guys that have won a lot that haven’t won yet,” said Kenseth, who easily could have been speaking of himself.

Kenseth talked recently about this season’s new Chase format, how much he pays attention to the series standings and assessed his tenure at JGR.

Q: Is there a different way to approach races this season with the new Chase format?

A: “Not really for me. I’ve never been in a race that I didn’t want to win. We show up every week with our best stuff with the idea of trying to figure out how to sit on the pole and win the race, so that’s really never changed since I started racing. I think the only time it really changes is maybe when you get to Homestead (Fla., for the season finale). You’ve seen a lot of years where somebody has a pretty big point cushion or whatever and he’s not going to go out there and probably try to win the race, he’s going to go make sure he doesn’t fall out of the championship.

“It just rewards the winners differently. Obviously, it gives them a better chance of being qualified to be in the Chase towards the end of the year. I think there’s more significance to the win than maybe what there was at some of the races last year.”

Q: How close do you pay attention to the points standings this season?

A: “You always kind of know where you’re at once the week is over; you maybe glance at the standings. They always park (haulers in the garage) in order of points, so when you show up parked the next week you kind of know where you’re at. That really hasn’t changed. I don’t know, I think maybe when you get closer to the 26-race cutoff then you probably study it a little more and see where everybody is and who’s in and who’s out and that kind of thing.

“You just don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. Is there going to be 10 winners? Is there going to be 20 winners? I don’t know. History suggests that there’s going to be a few guys added by points that didn’t win. Certainly if that’s the case and you haven’t won yet, then the point standings are very important.”

Q: How comfortable are you with Joe Gibbs Racing after a full season with the organization?

A: “I think the longer you’re at somewhere, the more comfortable you probably are, the more people you get to know. That type of thing. Last year at this time I was pretty comfortable, we had a couple wins, we were leading a lot of laps and things were really clicking along. We had some adversity along the way and we had some things happen, but we were performing at a really, really high level so I was pretty comfortable and having a lot of fun.

“I’m still comfortable, we’re still having fun – we want to be better and we set that bar so high last year that I think we expect that from ourselves all the time. We’re still trying to get a little bit better to get back up and be leading more laps and put ourselves in position to win more races and hopefully get a win here pretty soon.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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