Feb 13, 2014, 8:55 PM EDT
If Matt Kenseth was a concert pianist who just gave the performance of his life, he invariably would be be asked afterward what he’ll do for an encore.
Being the mild-mannered soul that he is, Kenseth would likely answer very simply, “Be even better the next time.”
Kenseth unquestionably had the best season of his career in 2013 after moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, winning a Sprint Cup Series-high seven races and just barely losing out in the championship battle to Jimmie Johnson.
Now that he’s had time to reflect during the offseason over all the good that happened to him and his team in 2013, not to mention the bad – like the Chase race at Phoenix that essentially cost him the championship – Kenseth is ready to begin his encore performance with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
“Just keep working on it,” Kenseth said during Thursday’s Media Day at Daytona International Speedway when asked what he can do better in 2014 than he did in 2013. “There’s a lot of people that would love to have our season — it was a great season last year and we’re just going to try to improve and try to be better if that’s possible this year.”
The Wisconsin native is going for his third 500 crown and potentially may try to mirror Johnson in a sense: Johnson began the run to his sixth Sprint Cup championship by winning last year’s 500 and then bookending the season by winning the championship in the season-ending race at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Maybe yet another 500 win will be the final piece to the puzzle for Kenseth to win his second career Cup championship in 2014.
“You always go back after every race, every practice, every qualifying session, certainly every season and you look back and try to see what you can do to improve,” Kenseth said. “I’m super far from perfect so certainly there are mistakes I could have eliminated.
“There’s certainly things I can do a lot better, so I think you always do that and you look back and try to make it better. Last year was a spectacular year for us obviously. We had really, really fast cars, led a lot of laps, qualified good, won a lot of races and really had a pretty decent last 10 races.”
But then Kenseth had to admit a twinge of regret:
“Would have been good enough to win (the championship) some years, it just wasn’t last year.”
Admittedly, NASCAR’s so-called hangover effect is somewhat of a concern for Kenseth. That’s essentially what happens when a driver has an outstanding season one year – some even go so far as to win the championship – only to have a big fall the following year.
It happened to Brad Keselowski in 2013. He failed to defend his Cup championship from the year before. In fact, Keselowski didn’t even make last season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
It also happened to Carl Edwards in 2012, after just barely missing winning the championship in 2011, losing in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart. Instead of picking up where he left off the season before, Edwards suffered through a winless and Chase-less year in 2012.
Stewart certainly knows that feeling well, too. He won his second of three Cup championships in 2005, only to miss qualifying for the Chase the following season.
Kenseth is optimistic that won’t happen to him in 2014.
“If anybody was going to have a hangover the next year you would think it would be Jimmie (Johnson) winning the championship because they had a lot of fun,” Kenseth said. “I’m not a big believer in that stuff. Every situation is a little bit different. I don’t know why that would be. Certainly as we got into the Chase and as we were leading and tied and behind and ahead again — we were tied with two races to go or three races to go and not to win it when we were that close and going to tracks that we thought were going to be really good was a little disappointing for sure. We’d be lying if we said it wasn’t.
“On the other hand, it was our first year together. When we sat here last year at this time we were really excited, we didn’t really know exactly what to expect or how we were going to do. We all had high hopes. Our goals were high that we were going to go out and win races and compete and make the Chase.
“To expect that and hope for that is different than doing it so I don’t think anybody expected us to have the year that we had. It was way better than we expected. I feel as good today as I did sitting here last year. I don’t know why we shouldn’t be better this year.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
Apr 17, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
You’ve heard of the wildly popular “Evolution of Dance” video on YouTube? Now there’s the Evolution of the Pit Stop.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the expectations for Gene Haas as he looks to start a F1 team. The pair question whether an F1 team can be run successfully out of the United States.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the emergence of some of this year’s top rookies on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. Petty says it is time for a changing of the guard, as many of today’s most successful drivers are nearing the end of their careers.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
The latest generation of NASCAR’s fabled Alabama Gang rode again in its debut Tuesday and Wednesday at Talladega Superspeedway. Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison and grandnephew of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, both original members of the Alabama Gang, took part in a two-day test of ARCA drivers at NASCAR’s largest oval track.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT
Whether you like it or not, you can’t say the Ford Mustang doesn’t have staying power. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, the Mustang has become one of the premier muscle car brands ever made by Detroit.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EDT
One of the best venues for short track racing in the country, South Boston (Va.) Speedway, will be the new home for and play host to Denny Hamlin’s annual Short Track Showdown next Thursday (April 24).
Apr 17, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
NASCAR chairman Brian France’s unwavering stance to bring parity to the sport during his 10-year tenure is finally paying dividends.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
News and notes from the ground in China from NBCSN’s Will Buxton.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Just eight races into the Sprint Cup season, the future of the two-car Swan Racing team is looking rather murky, with the potential of everything from reorganization to scaling back involvement, if not outright shutting down.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
F1 heads to China with change in the wind, only making the predictions harder for our experts.
Apr 17, 2014, 2:06 PM EDT
Thursday on NASCAR AMERICA, the team will cover a lot of ground, including talking with NASCAR team owner Gene Haas about his foray into Formula One. Rick Allen and Kyle Petty man the anchor desk from our Charlotte studio. Remember to tune in at at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online or mobile device.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:24 PM EDT
The Who founder and lead singer paid a visit to Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, and soaked it all in while also raising awareness for Teen Cancer America.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
The Internet is like coming to a strange five-way intersection that you’ve never seen before. No matter which way you decide to go, you’re bound to find something new and different. So as we were looking for something else, we stumbled upon this video of 7-year-old go-kart racer Ryan Rifredi in a race from December…
Apr 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Defending world champion banking on a top five finish in China.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Rosberg felt that Hamilton overstepped the mark with one of his moves in Bahrain.
Apr 17, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
After Stefano Domenicali’s departure, there’s a change in the wind at Ferrari.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing withdraws from the TUDOR Championship, after previously announcing a temporary hiatus.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The final eastern adventure until October looks to be a Mercedes game once again, but a number of other stories are set to define the weekend.
True Americana with a racing twist: Martinsville Speedway once again hosts high school prom after-party
Apr 16, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
What do Martinsville Speedway, New York’s Central Park and a prom after-party have in common? They’re all one-in-the-same – kind of. For over a decade every April, NASCAR’s oldest racetrack has played host to Martinsville (Va.) High School’s prom after-party.
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