Feb 13, 2014, 8:55 PM EST
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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Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST
It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
One of Kurt Busch’s sponsors has joined team owner Gene Haas in backing the driver in his ongoing dispute with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EST
Want to have a good laugh or two? Check out all of the bloopers and behind-the-scenes fun from NASCAR America over this past year.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:18 PM EST
NASCAR announced that a Camping World Truck Series crew member has been suspended for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
RoC, Mecum, and two F1 “Road To:” specials make for motors block on NBCSN tonight starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
Will Power is a closet breakdancer? Who knew? Find out in the latest edition of The Penske Files.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Sauber’s 2015 car is the second to pass crash test.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:28 PM EST
No Franchitti in 2015 as CGR announces Rolex 24 lineup.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
Penske’s newest star to head to NFL’s biggest game.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:21 PM EST
Darrell Wallace Jr. joins Roush Fenway Racing.
Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age
Dec 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
In less than one year, Chase Elliott went from the driver of a start-up team to the youngest champion in NASCAR history.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Almirola broke into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a rain-shortened win at Daytona in the summer.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
The engineer market is busy in F1, as well.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Kasey Kahne struggled at times in 2014, but there’s great promise for 2015 with a new contract, new crew chief and an extension from his primary sponsor.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:46 AM EST
Di Montezemolo and Walsh now part of F1’s controlling shareholder Board of Directors.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:11 AM EST
Menards stays with RCR’s XFINITY program.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Second SPM IndyCar seat up for grabs.
Dec 17, 2014, 8:47 PM EST
NASCAR revealed the 2015 schedules for the Whelen Modified Tour and its Southwest Modified Tour, including a first-time visit at the legendary Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway.
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