Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues today with Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champ who is currently fourth in points. Kenseth has three wins so far this season – his highest single-season total since 2006.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
MK: These are going to be hard questions. You've got to give me something that's on my mind.
Dave Blaney pops into my head. Maybe because I just saw him at (garage) sign-in. I'm just kidding. Nah, I mean, he can drive about anything. He's been in some different rides and stuff, but I don't think anybody really thinks about him as much, you know?
SBN: What's a race in your career that you didn't win and still bugs you because you didn't win it?
MK: Every one.
SBN: Every one? That's a lot!
MK: Yeah, no shit. (laughs) There's probably a few of them. We were leading Dover one time and Jeff Burton beat us at the end. Then, to add insult to injury, we ran out of gas with two laps to go. Jimmie (Johnson) passed me on the last lap at Vegas one year, on the outside coming to the checkered. That one stung. There's been a few close ones.
Any time you're leading at the end and get beat, even Texas last fall when I almost got back by Denny (Hamlin) and couldn't, that always hurts. You always feel like you failed the team, you know?
SBN: If you could be on a four-car team but you can't pick any of your current teammates, who would you pick?
MK: That's a tough one to answer. I have a lot of guys I consider friends in the garage and there are a lot of great drivers in the garage. I think everybody has their own different strengths and weaknesses, so I'd probably have to put more thought into that if I had to pick just three.
SBN: Well, let me ask you this – would you lean toward picking your friends or just guys who can help you with information?
MK: Well, I think you want a little bit of both. If you had a choice, you'd look for people who you get along with, first of all. Because no matter how much information you're getting, if you don't get along with somebody and he's under your skin all the time and he's on your team, it's probably not that much fun.
If you've got to work in the garages with somebody all the time, you'd probably look for people who A) Perform really well and B) You get along with or have the same views. Then it'd be easier to work together.
Hopefully you can find people where if you try something in the car and it's like, ‘Oh man, that felt good,' they do the same thing and like it, too. That way you can share more information.
I'm not giving you very good answers yet, am I? I gave you no names.
SBN: That's fine. I've been hoping for some smartass one-liners, though.
MK: From me?
MK: That's not who I am.
SBN: Oh, sure.
MK: Nobody would have ever thought I was a smartass with one-liners until Twitter.
SBN: Well, Twitter is perfect for you. Anyway, when you were coming up through the ranks, what driver did you want to emulate?
MK: Well, I'd say there are all kinds of stages in your career. In my short track days, I had different people that I looked up to than I did in the Nationwide Series or when I got here.
I'd probably say Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Both those guys were at Roush when I got there, and they were both winning a ton of races. They had similar styles, and yet they were different. Being part of that at the time, you could really see the difference. I think I learned a lot off both of them guys and tried to absorb it and pay attention to the things they did and didn't do.
SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made to the airport after a race?
MK: Well, the most memorable one is I was leaving Texas – and I was in the wrong lane. (Wife) Katie was in the car and my son was in the car, and I think my sister was with me. I pulled over to ask a cop a question, because I was the first one out of the track and I wanted to go through these cones to get to the highway.
Anyway, one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, he had me back by the trunk, ready to cuff me and take me to jail. It was unbelievable.
MK: I actually thought he was going to pistol-whip me – for asking a question. Then he got all done with that, wrote me a ticket and then let me go ahead and cross the cones and go to the airport. (Laughs) That was about 45 minutes of getting yelled at and telling me I was going to get arrested and stuff like that. It was really crazy. That's by far the craziest one. It was really bad.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
MK: Hmm. I don't really know that I've got a wish list right now. I mean, I'd always wanted to meet the Metallica guys. But I was actually able to do that a long time ago. It was in 2003, I guess. All the band took the time and hung out with me and my friends for awhile – except Lars (Ulrich, drummer) didn't show up. I guess he was in a bad mood or something.
Anyway, I got to watch them play and it was cool to meet them. Ever since I first started listening to that type of music, I looked up to them guys and read a lot about them and listened to every song they ever wrote and sang. So that was cool to meet them guys that time.
SBN: Last year, Jamie McMurray won some huge races but missed the Chase; Jeff Gordon didn't win any races but made the Chase and contended for awhile. Which type of season would you rather have?
MK: Well, if you're not going to win the championship, you'd rather have the race wins. But if you wanted to choose either zero wins and a championship or five wins and no championship, I think everybody in the garage would choose championship, unless they're lying to you.
That's the ultimate prize that you work toward for nine or 10 months. I know there's not a champion in the garage who didn't win a race. So you've got to be running well enough to win races in order to win a championship.
But if you're just making the Chase and not winning the championship, I'd pick winning races any day. Do I care whether I'm second or seventh (in points)? I mean...yeah...but not that much. It's about winning, you know?
SBN: Yeah, I hear you.
MK: Hey, is somebody going to do another article this year if Carl (Edwards) doesn't win another race and he wins the championship? He's only won one race this year.
SBN: It'll be like Kenseth, Part II.
MK: I've been beat up about that for nine years now!
SBN: Well, they'll just change the points system if that happens, like they did for you.
MK: Yeah (laughs).
SBN: So we were talking about winning. Where does your motivation to win come from? Why do you want to win so badly?
MK: Well, everyone is competitive in the garage. They wouldn't have made it here if they weren't very competitive, because racing is always about beating the next guy. Winning, especially at this level, is always your ultimate goal.
Just being a competitive person, I've never done any kind of competition I didn't want to win before. Whether it was a friendly game of playing hoops or playing P-I-G to racing at Daytona, I mean, I've never had one where I've lost and felt good about it. Like, ‘Oh, that's OK. It was a fun game.' I mean, it's not. You always want to win.
I play video games against my son. He always teases me, because when he beat me a couple years ago in Madden, I lost my cool and threw the controller. So he thought that was pretty funny. But I get so mad inside, I've got a stomach ache for like half a day. I just can't stand it. I think most people in the garage are somewhat like that.
SBN: Do you take Green Bay Packers losses that hard, or not as much since you can't control what they do?
MK: Well, being a fan, you always want your team to win. But, no, I don't take them that hard.
SBN: How much does your personality differ from standing here talking to me to when you're inside the car?
MK: I don't think it really differs at all. I mean, I really feel like I'm pretty much the same person all the time. I've never really tried to conform to what I thought somebody wanted me to be or what I thought a sponsor wanted me to be. I've honestly really never tried to do that. I've always tried to be myself.
That's why I think the Twitter thing is somewhat comical, because everybody thinks I'm a totally different person all of the sudden. That's really who I am, it's just a lot of people don't see it. If I'm doing an on-camera interview at the track, I'm thinking about race cars and racing and doing that. So I don't know. I guess some people have a hard time getting it out, but I don't think I'm ever really different.
SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from another sport, who would you want to be?
MK: I wouldn't switch my life with anybody.
SBN: Really? Not even Aaron Rodgers or someone like that?
MK: Heck no. I wouldn't trade anything for my life for anybody. But, if I could go to another sport and try something different and perform at something, I would for sure like to play football. I think most people would like to be the quarterback. I don't know anything about Aaron Rodgers' personal life, but I think it would be really fun to be on the field, be leading that team and go throw the winning touchdown pass. I think everybody would like to do that.
The other thing I dreamt about as a kid – even past a kid – is being the lead singer for Metallica. Especially when you're 20 years younger than I am now. I think it'd be fun to do that for awhile. Maybe not all the partying and stuff around it, but just to go out there.
I've seen them a lot of times in person, and in their popular days, (singer James Hetfield) walks out on stage and he's controlling that whole crowd. I mean, there's 60,000 people there yelling and screaming for him and repeating every word he sings. They're just going nuts, just for him and those other three guys. That'd be pretty cool to have that gift and talent to be able to go and do that.
SBN: So can you sing?
SBN: Not even in the car?
MK: Well, I can...by myself. But I don't sing in front of anybody. It's pretty bad. Although I'm getting pretty good lately at "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and some of the Elmo songs. Yesterday was "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
SBN: That's impressive. If you could take a year away from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted, but then come back knowing you had a guaranteed ride, would you ever want to do that?
MK: No, I wouldn't want to do that. I'd just want to keep racing. Now there have been times – and there probably still are – where you wish you could have a couple weeks off. Like in the middle of the summer when the weather is actually nice, you could take your family camping somewhere for a week and a half. Or go tour somewhere for a week and a half. There's times you think about that, but I've never thought about wanting more than a couple weeks off in the nice weather in the summer.
Other than that, I like being at the track every week. I don't think I'd have the desire to take a year off until the day I was done and didn't really want to come back. Or maybe look at some of the guys like Bill (Elliott) who come back and maybe run a couple races.
SBN: When you do retire eventually, what do you want your retirement story to say about you? What do you want your legacy in NASCAR to be?
MK: I have to be careful wording this one. I kind of, in a way, don't care.
I mean, everybody wants everybody to like them. I like it when everybody gets along with me. I think everybody secretly hopes everybody likes you and gets along with you and respects you.
Everybody is going to make their own opinions about your career and your personality and what you did or what you didn't do. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, but they're all going to do that themselves. I can't control that.
So as long as I walk away knowing I gave it my all and did my best, was a fair and honest person and worked as hard as I could at doing what I have and all the things that were provided for me, I'll feel good about it.
SBN: That's actually exactly how I thought you'd answer that question. But I figured I should ask it anyway.
MK: Yeah, that's cool. You can't control what other people think, right? You can try, but I tell you what, I tried that for about six months and I was like, ‘Ah, forget it.'
SBN: That takes thick skin, though.
MK: You can't make everybody happy, no matter what. I know I keep talking about Twitter, but it's funny – I was on there the other day answering some questions – which most (drivers) don't really do that, because it is hard. Even though I don't have that many followers, I don't think, you start answering questions or retweet a couple things, and all of the sudden you have 100 of them on there.
There's no way you can do them all. I was sitting on there for two hours the other day, because I didn't have anything to do, and I just started getting tweets like, 'I'm not following you anymore! You're ignoring me! You're not answering my questions!' Like all yelling at you and stuff. So no matter what, you're not going to make everybody happy. Somebody is going to be pissed off at you. You can't really spend much time worrying about that.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship. Would you rather have it wrapped up after Phoenix or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season at Homestead?
MK: OK, here's the deal on that. Let's say a guy is leading the race and he's been leading all day, and there's 40 laps to go and it starts raining. And they're interviewing him: 'Do you want to go back to racing or do you want it get rained out?' And they're all like, 'Yeah! We want to go back to racing! We've got the best car.'
Well, every one of them guys is lying to ya. The real answer is, 'Heck yeah, I want it to rain! We've been working all day, we're leading this race.' You know what I mean?
So if anyone tells you they want it to go down to the wire – the last lap – I mean, yeah, when it's all said and done and it's all over and if you can accomplish that, then heck yeah, that'd be the best way to do it because it would be so exciting and thrilling for your team and yourself and all the fans and all that stuff.
But if you had the choice, I don't think anybody wants that extra pressure for a whole week, to go down to the last corner and all that stuff. Anybody that says they do is just lying to you.
When you're out there leading with 10 laps to go, you think anyone wants that last caution? They don't want that last caution. They want to roll to the end of the race and get it over with, you know?