Category archive: Matt Kenseth

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth speaks into the phone in a deep bass voice that sounds more like Barry White than a Sprint Cup driver from Wisconsin.

"Hello, Dave," Kenseth says. "Do I sound like Adam?"

Adam is the public relations representative working with Kenseth to promote Gatorade's Beat the Heat program. The 2003 Cup champion is having fun at Adam's expense, so I play along and tell him he sounds more like one of the "famous" Gatorade athletes -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

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Matt Kenseth
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth has four wins in 2013, but he hasn't been to Victory Lane since June 29 at Kentucky.

"Wait a minute," Kenseth says, the pitch in his voice almost back to its normal level. "I'm more famous than he is. He's trying to be like me."

Kenseth pauses for a second to speak to Adam.

"Don't worry," he tells Adam. "It's OK."

He returns to me.

"I'm getting a real funny look right now because he thinks … I'm not doing a serious interview," he says.

Kenseth still has his sense of humor, as dry as it is.

What the Joe Gibbs Racing driver doesn't have is the dominating performances he had earlier in the season that had many considering him the favorite to win the championship.

He's finished 22nd and 23rd the past two weeks, leading only one lap. His average finish the past 10 races is 18.3. During that span he has one win and one pole and has led only 102 laps.

I say only 102 laps because during the first 12 races Kenseth led 893 laps, including 574 during an amazing five-race stretch between Kansas and Charlotte. He had three wins during that time -- which easily could have been five -- and two poles, equaling the number he had the past four years combined.

Take away the Daytona 500, where an engine failure ended Kenseth's day after he led 86 laps, and Bristol, where a crash ruined his day after he led 85 laps, and his average finish in the other 10 races was 7.2.

Gaudy.

So while most are focused on the nine drivers battling for the final four playoff spots, Kenseth is focused on getting back in position to be a legitimate threat for the title.

"We've had a little bit of a fall lately," he admits. "We need to stay in the top 10, obviously, to get those bonus points in the Chase. They're going to be real important.

"I feel good. We're going to have better cars, better engines, better everything at the end of the year. But we still have to execute and turn those into finishes and into wins. … We need to start now, this weekend."

Michigan International Speedway is a good place to start. Kenseth was sixth there in June. He has two wins and 18 top-10s in 28 starts at the 2-mile track in the Irish Hills.

"I'm not concerned," Kenseth says. "I feel we're going to be strong down the stretch and hopefully have everything where we need it heading into the Chase."

The conversation turns back to the heat, specifically how hot Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on Sunday at Watkins Glen immediately after a wreck triggered by Kenseth, who got into the back of Marcos Ambrose and then the side of Kasey Kahne.

It didn't take a Gatorade to cool Earnhardt off, though. Just a conversation with Kenseth.

"He's all right," Kenseth says. "I didn't know what went on until I went back and watched it all. If you watch the next restart, [Ambrose] had a flat tire in front of me. He got really slow [before the wreck], and I wasn't expecting that and I went to miss him. Kasey was going by me so fast because [Ambrose] was going too slow, and I just clipped him."

Then Earnhardt got into Kahne and … well, it didn't end well for either of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers.

The conversation returns to Gatorade and why the company hasn't made a role-reversal commercial featuring Kenseth with a towel over his head and Cam Newton wearing a racing helmet.

"That's a good idea," Kenseth says.

Apparently, Adam gives another funny look. The interview is over with Kenseth sounding like his old self.

The question is, can he get back to performing like his early-season self?

KeselowskiJared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski stretched his legs in the new Miller Lite Ford Fusion during Tuesday's NASCAR test.

CONCORD, N.C. -- You won't find the sterling silver Sprint Cup trophy made by Tiffany and Co. at the home of reigning champion Brad Keselowski.

"No, I don't keep trophies at my house,'' Keselowski said during Tuesday's test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I don't believe in building a shrine to myself. It's kind of weird."

This is why Keselowski will be a threat to repeat in 2013.

The Penske Racing driver doesn't want to be reminded about what he has accomplished. He wants to work on building toward the future, and this two-day test at CMS is the first step in doing that.

Keselowski spent about as much time focusing on how he and new teammate Joey Logano will work together as he did the new car and new manufacturer.

"I'm curious to see over time how we can work together and push each other to be the best we can be, so I've had a lot of fun with that so far,'' Keselowski said. "We've got a lot of work to do.

"We're only a half a day into two really important days, not only for Penske Racing but for the sport itself, and hopefully we can continue to show progress."

Matt Kenseth, who replaced Logano in the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing after spending his entire Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing, also was focused on getting to know new people at a time drivers typically are getting away from the sport.

That he chose to be here instead of spending quality time with his family is a reason he'll be a threat in 2013.

"I've got to be honest, it was probably the first time I've been nervous in a race car -- getting in there and going out for the first time -- in as long as I can remember,'' the 2003 Cup champion said. "It's always exciting and you're a little anxious when you go do something different. It's been fun so far."

OK, it wasn't all fun. Kenseth did create more work for his new crew than they probably expected when he over-revved the engine near the end of the first practice.

"So they're back there changing it,'' he said of the engine during lunch break. "So I think the guys are in love with me right now. Like, 'Where did we find this clown? Give us the other one back.' Other than that it's been good."

Bottom line for Keselowski and Kenseth: They still are hungry to prove themselves.

And that will make both contenders in 2013.

Mark MartinJohn Harrelson/Getty ImagesMark Martin had already announced he would be back with Hendrick Motorsports in 2010. He will also return in 2011, with GoDaddy.com as his sponsor for both seasons.

We all like to speculate on why certain things happen. Like the fans on my Thursday chat who decided Matt Kenseth overshot his pit box in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond on purpose to force Michael Waltrip, who appeared on numerous occasions to block the 2003 champion in his pit box, to make an extra lap.

The conspiracy theory here is that Waltrip was doing what he could to keep Kenseth out of the Chase and help fellow Toyota driver Brian Vickers get in.

Makes sense when you think about it.

So when it was announced Friday that 50-year-old Mark Martin had extended his contract with Hendrick Motorsports yet another season into 2011, I began to wonder why.

Here are a few theories:

• Martin will drive the No. 5 GoDaddy.com-sponsored car until IRL darling Danica Patrick is ready to take over. Patrick, who already has a relationship with GoDaddy.com, will drive two years in the Truck and Nationwide Series for Kevin Harvick Inc., with an assist from Tony Stewart.

In 2011, Stewart will have expanded to four teams with Kevin Harvick, who will leave Richard Childress Racing, and Kasey Kahne, who will say goodbye to Richard Petty Motorsports -- or whatever it is called by then. Stewart doesn't hold a seat open for Patrick because, quite frankly, the two-time Cup champion has a hard time keeping a woman.

Patrick will become the fourth member of HMS with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch. Oh, did I mention, Jeff Gordon will have retired and Busch will be brought back to drive the No. 24? OK, so that part is a bit far-fetched, but everything else could happen.

• Martin will sign his third extension with HMS, keeping him in the No. 5 GoDaddy.com car through 2012. By then Brad Keselowski's deal with Penske Motorsports will have expired and he'll return to drive the car he was meant to have before Martin signed his first extension.

Remember, Hendrick already warned fellow owners he might get Keselowski back one day.

• Martin will drive the No. 5 until his son, Matt, is married and starting a family. GoDaddy.com will change its name to GoGranddaddy.com and Martin will win his first championship at the age of 55 and retire to replace Ellen DeGeneres as a judge on "American Idol."

Hey, the guy knows music almost as well as he drives.

• Martin will drive the No. 5 through 2011, and by then another sponsor and another up-and-coming driver will be in the picture. Maybe it will be Austin Dillon, who by then will realize he's better off in HMS equipment than sticking with his granddaddy in the No. 3 at RCR.

Oh, did I mention the No. 3 would be back on the track again?

I have no evidence to suggest any of this will occur. As a friend in the sport often has said, he likes discussing scenarios with me because I think outside the box and about 70 percent of them wind up coming true.

Got a better scenario? Let's hear it.