Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who is second in the Sprint Cup Series point standings to Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle. Kenseth sat down with us last weekend at Dover.
SBN: Thanks for doing the interview.
MK: No problem. Do you mind if I eat my apple while we're doing this?
SBN: Sure, I can edit out the crunches of the apple.
MK: Oh, that's right! You do these word-for-word, right? I remember that now. I'll have to try not to say, "Um" too many times.
SBN: Good luck. OK, so the first question is what percent of your career races can you remember?
MK: I have no idea. I know there's been a lot of them, but I'm sure I could remember bits and pieces of all of them if you started talking about them.
SBN: Really? Even some random Pocono race?
MK: I think somebody would have to bring something up that jogs your memory about it, but I would hope I could remember most of them. There's some you try to forget. Usually those are the ones you can't forget! Like I'm pretty sure the next thing you're going to bring up is me sitting on top of the tires here (at Dover) that one time.
SBN: I thought of it, but I wasn't going to go there.
MK: Every time I come here, that comes up. See, those are the ones you can't forget.
SBN: What was the first win you ever got in any form of motorsports?
MK: Um.... Oh, great! I said it.
SBN: Said what?
MK: I said, "Um...!"
SBN: Wow, I didn't even catch that.
MK: Anyway, I was racing this little track in Wisconsin called Columbus 151 Speedway – that's where I first started racing when I was 16. I won the feature event on my third night out there, so that was my first win.
SBN: Did you do anything special to celebrate?
MK: Not really. I was 16, riding with my dad. We were all fired up and then we cruised home. (Laughs)
SBN: Who is a clean driver you really enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
MK: I can't really think of anybody I don't enjoy racing with at this moment. To be honest with you, I think everybody races pretty fair. Everybody races a little different and has a different style, but I really enjoy racing against everybody.
I think it's different than it was five or six years ago; it'd be easier back then to pick out guys you didn't enjoy racing against as much as others, who weren't as clean or didn't give you as much room or whatever.
I think today, the racing is pretty good. I think everybody races pretty hard for every spot because track position is so important, but I think everybody races each other pretty fairly.
That was a boring answer, wasn't it?
SBN: No, but my next question was going to be "Who don't you enjoy racing against?" So that's kind of out.
MK: I don't have anybody on my list right now. You never know, I might by Sunday night. (Laughs)
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track? How do you decide when to go and when to race hard?
MK: I think every situation is different. I think you always race really hard, um, but yet... (Pretends to wince) Did it again! That's only two so far though.
You know, there's certain times when you can see somebody is faster than you and you're halfway through the race and there's nobody directly behind them, and you're probably just going to get out of the way and give the guy the spot. And in turn, 95 percent of the time, you get that same courtesy back when you're running them down and there's room.
Yet today, as competitive as it is, like on restarts when there's cars stacked up behind somebody and there are cars stacked up in front of you, you can't really give those spots up like you used to. You race everybody pretty darn hard for that spot until it gets singled out and everybody gets some room.
But that's different than it used to be, too. When you had single-file restarts, you wouldn't maybe hold somebody up. Whereas today, it seems like we all hold each other up a little more than we used to – especially for the first 10 or 15 laps. When you get room and somebody is faster, you let him go on his way and make up ground – unless you're on the last run of the day, of course.
When there's a lot of racing left, you try to give that courtesy as much as you can because you usually get that back when the roles are reversed.
SBN: Do you have a list of people you owe for on-track payback, or are you not a revenge-type guy?
MK: I think everybody has a mental list of things that happened or people you wouldn't be as polite to, but I really don't have one right now. I really get along pretty well with everyone, as of right now – at least I feel like I do. And I hope I'm not on anybody else's list.
But through the years, you have conflicts with people and you try to learn in those conflicts that most of the time, you're both to blame in some percentage of it. I feel like you're much farther ahead if you just go work it out with that person and move on.
It just doesn't do any good to sit there and think about it and dwell on it. When you do that and you think about payback, I think it's usually detrimental to yourself. You're like, "Heck yeah, I'm going to go get that guy!" Well, who wants that? And what good is that doing for your own finish and what you're trying to accomplish?
There's a point where you never want to be pushed around, but as long as I've been racing, most people know how you race, and if you have conflicts or whatever, you're just better off getting it behind you and moving on.
SBN: If you could turn back time and team up with a driver from the past, who would it be?
MK: That's a tough one. I mean, I don't think you could have a better teammate than Mark Martin when I first started, bringing me into Roush. There's not a harder racer or a more fair guy and someone who would want to give you more information and help you and all that.
Really, I think if I could turn back time far enough, I think it would be fun to not have any teammates. You know what I mean? You could go back to the day when it was one against 42; not just one driver against 42 other drivers, but one team against 42 other teams. I think that'd be cool.
I thought it was more interesting back then, because you'd have a lot of people switching teams, or one team would have the hot hand one week and then maybe this guy did the next week. I think that'd be interesting to go that far back in time.
SBN: I thought you were about to pick Mark Martin as your driver from the past because he's old.
MK: Nah! He has been around awhile, though.
SBN: When is the last time you were nervous about anything?
MK: Nervous or anxious? I think that's a lot different.
SBN: I mean nervous to the point of butterflies in your stomach.
MK: That's a tough one to answer. I spend too much time thinking about things, being anxious. But as far as being nervous, gosh, I don't know. Probably the most comfortable and calm I feel is when I get in the race car, so I don't know.
I mean, there are certain times I get nervous or uncomfortable doing certain things, but it never has anything to do with the race car.
SBN: You guys do so many autograph sessions and appearances, and sometimes fans can ask awkward questions. Do you have any recent fan stories along those lines?
MK: Not that I can think of offhand, not lately. I think you see a good variety of all kinds of different people with all kinds of different ideas, which is what makes racing fun, I guess. But I can't think of anything recently where I walked away and thought, "That was really weird."
SBN: When you eventually retire, if you had to pick one of these jobs, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official?
MK: If I had to pick one? Definitely an official. The TV thing is not for me.
SBN: So you'd prefer to be in the garage, I take it?
MK: No, I don't want to do either when I retire. That's why I'd retire! But you said I had to pick one! (Laughs)
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
MK: I don't know if I've had any of them lately, either. I mean besides the standard stuff. You go on Twitter, and every week I get asked what my favorite racetrack is. Maybe it's because they're new or they didn't see it before. Stuff like that, after awhile you're like, "I've already answered that 100 times."
I remember when Mark (Martin) first started Twitter, he was so funny because he answers everybody's question. He must have been sending out 1,000 tweets a day, so I had to stop following that. Everybody would ask him his schedule at first. Now (the questions are about) his schedule, what he's going to eat and how he's going to work out. (Laughs) You know? It's like, "OK, I already know all that!"
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Last week, Parker Kligerman wanted to know: "What are your thoughts on getting rid of all aero devices and racing with no spoiler?"
MK: I think less would be better, but I don't think you could take it all off and race. You'd have an open wheel car with no wing on it if you did that.
I think less sideforce would be better, and a little less spoiler, less rear aero. They're really hard to drive right now, but they're fairly forgiving to catch. I think that's why we don't see a lot of cautions and all that, is because we have those big, huge, long sides on the cars.
Cutting that little bit of side skirt was a step that way, but a very small step. When the cars get way yawed out, and it helps you catch the car. You've got that big side on it, and all the air hits it and it helps you straighten the car back out.
I don't want to say you'd have better racing – because I think the racing is pretty good right now – but if you got rid of some of that (side aero), it would maybe penalize the guy who messes up. He maybe wouldn't be able to save the car, and he'd have a wreck and maybe that would be a caution – if we think we think we need more of that. But I think the racing is pretty good.
The one thing is these cars are really good at running side-by-side right now because they have a lot of sideforce and a lot of downforce. So when you get underneath somebody, you can actually race and pass and run side-by-side. It's harder to get to them and get underneath them because of the aero-push, but it does make it better to run side-by-side.
If you had less aero, you'd be able to catch them easier and get underneath them and make them loose when you got behind them and all that, but it would probably be harder to hold on to as well. It's probably a tradeoff.
SBN: Can you help me out with a question for the next interview? It's scheduled to be Juan Pablo Montoya.
MK: If it's Montoya, we could try to think of a funny jet dryer question.
SBN: Go for it.
MK: Actually, for Montoya, I've never really sat and talked to him about Formula One. I think it'd would be interesting to see what he likes better about Formula One than NASCAR racing and what he likes better about NASCAR racing than Formula One.
I think that'd be interesting. Because there has to be something that's cooler about that and there has to be something that's cooler about this. I don't know all that much about that kind of racing.
SBN: Good one. And congratulations on making it through with only two "Ums."
MK: Yeah! Last time, I was like, "Oh, it's just a print article." But then I read it and it had all them in there and I was like, "Gosh! Do I really say it that many times?"