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.”
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Apr 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Former Red Bull F1 driver finishes third, while Porsche’s GTE-Pro squads finish 1-2 in class.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Trophies and big paychecks are no longer the only things a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and team get when they win a race. Now they get a big breakfast, too. According to Statesville.com, the Boxcar Grille in Statesville, N.C., has begun serving breakfast to winning teams in the Charlotte area after they return from capturing a Cup race.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Both of their Le Mans Prototypes fail to see the checkered flag at Silverstone due to accidents.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
While he probably can’t throw a football more than 20 or 30 yards, Chad Knaus is a diehard Carolina Panthers fan. And while football and stock car racing are polar opposites, they do have some similarities, particularly when it comes to team building, success, strategy and preparation for each game or race. Knaus, a six-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, recently called Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera to throw around and share ideas that might be beneficial to both men.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Hermie Sadler will never be confused with former wrestling greats Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin – not even Rik “Wooooo” Flair. But the NASCAR analyst for Fox Sports 1 has been a longtime fan of wrestling and will now become somewhat of a decision maker, too.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Nicolas Lapierre take the No. 8 Toyota to the win in the Six Hours of Silverstone.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
More than 20 years after graduating, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going back to school. Well, for at least one day. Earnhardt will take part in a two-hour session on May 8 with two student groups, wrapped around an all-school assembly at Seaman High School in Topeka, Kansas, according to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
We hope your Easter’s filled with family, friends…and maybe some jelly beans.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Finn can only come home in eighth for Ferrari, some 50 seconds behind teammate Fernando Alonso.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Largely unnoticed, these two youngsters were brilliant today in China.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
German driver saw no reason to follow team orders, but soon realised that there was no point in holding Ricciardo up.
Apr 20, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT
German driver downbeat after losing to Hamilton yet again, but in the grand scheme of things, it was a great result.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
Embarrassing error sees race end on lap 54, not lap 56; Kobayashi the only driver to lose a position.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:15 AM EDT
Ferrari ends torrid week with something to smile about as Alonso finishes third in China.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:47 AM EDT
German driver refuses to let Daniel Ricciardo past at first, but ultimately thinks better of it.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:30 AM EDT
British driver delighted with team effort, and pleased to see teammate Nico Rosberg reach the podium again.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:43 AM EDT
British driver goes wire-to-wire to claim his third straight win and number 25 of his F1 career.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:15 AM EDT
As the Mercedes turf war rumbles on, Red Bull and Ferrari will be waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:00 AM EDT
Here’s how the drivers will line up for the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix today, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2:30am ET.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:30 AM EDT
He has come close before, but Hamilton finally can make it three wins in a row today in China.
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