Matt Kenseth most definitely has the Sprint Cup trophy in his sites for 2014 after coming so close last season.

After 2013, what will Matt Kenseth do for an encore? Be even better in 2014, that’s what

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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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Rosberg rallies to German GP pole at Hockenheim

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg bounced back from an electronic issue on his car in qualifying to secure pole position for his home Formula 1 race at Hockenheim in Germany.

Rosberg edged out Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by one-tenth of a second in Q3 to take pole on home soil for the second time, his first coming two years ago at Hockenheim.

Rosberg and Hamilton were neck-and-neck through their first flying laps in Q3, only for Rosberg to slow in the final sector before pulling into the pits due to an electronic error. Hamilton completed his lap, going six-tenths of a second faster than everyone else to take provisional pole.

With the error resolved, Rosberg emerged from the pits early for his final Q3 run, having the track to himself. The German driver went one-tenth of a second faster than Hamilton to wrestle away provisional pole, piling the pressure on the Briton ahead of his final run.

Hamilton went faster than Rosberg through the first sector, but the rest of the lap fell away from him, meaning he could gain just 0.02 seconds to stay in second place, handing his rival pole.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, as the two Red Bulls once again defeated Ferrari with relative ease. Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth for the Scuderia, two-tenths clear of Sebastian Vettel in P6.

Nico Hulkenberg led Force India’s charge in P7 ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with their respective teammates Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa following in P9 and P10.

Haas came close to picking up its first Q3 appearance in F1 as Esteban Gutierrez qualified 11th, having been pushed out of the top 10 after late improvements from Perez and Massa. Teammate Romain Grosjean failed to match Gutierrez for pace, finishing 15th, but will drop to P20 on the grid due to a gearbox penalty.

McLaren was unable to repeat its double-Q3 run from Hungary as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso qualified 12th and 14th respectively, split by Carlos Sainz Jr. in the lead Toro Rosso in P13. However, Sainz will have to speak to the stewards after appearing to impede Massa’s hot lap during Q2.

Renault enjoyed mixed fortunes as Jolyon Palmer made his way through to Q2, qualifying 16th, but teammate Kevin Magnussen was narrowly edged out in Q1 after a late improvement from Sainz. The Dane eventually finished the session in 17th.

Pascal Wehrlein finished just one-tenth of a second shy of a Q2 berth in P18, with Manor teammate Rio Haryanto two places further back. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat split the pair, enduring another tough session by qualifying 19th. Sauber drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson locked out the back row of the grid, half a second adrift from Q2.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On F1’s rule changes, Rosenqvist Indy debut

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Formula 1’s seemingly ever evolving rules and regulations changes – notably the radio communications clampdown – and a highly impressive IndyCar test debut for Felix Rosenqvist are among the highlights in Stefan Johansson’s latest blog, which we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

In his latest conversation with Jan Tegler, Johansson looks back at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Rosenqvist’s test debut in Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, among other items.

Jenson Button spoke out heavily against the radio restrictions when he had his braking issues, and was later assessed a drive-through penalty.

Here’s what Johanasson had to say about the rules, many of which exist, yet few of which seem to have real clarity:

“Unfortunately, F1 is mirroring what’s happening in the real world where more and more rules and laws are added but none are ever cancelled it seems. In the end it becomes so convoluted that the outcome of a dispute in civilian life often depend on who has the best lawyers, really. Sadly, it now seems to be heading in the same direction in racing too,” he writes.

“There are now so many grey areas in F1 that allow conflicts to be argued in so many ways that it’s difficult to follow. The rules should never be enforced by a subjective judgment. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the rule making in Formula One is that they don’t nip some of things in the bud before they become glaring issues. This is why we end up with this endless stream of knee jerk rules to fix a problem that should never have existed in the first place.

“They’ve created their own monster with these ultra-complicated cars. When you have an issue like Jenson had, being advised over the radio how to address it, is clearly not going to lead to a performance improvement. And if there’s a safety issue, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to relay that to a driver.”

On the Kimi Raikkonen/Max Verstappen battle for position:

“It’s a perfect example. What is blocking? Is it one move? Is it two? Is it a move and a wiggle?

“I can totally sympathize with Raikkonen because he went one way then Verstappen moved, so he went the other way and committed to it but Verstappen moved again. It wasn’t really a big move but it was enough that Kimi couldn’t avoid him. At that point, you’re already 100% committed, you’re braking on the limit and you don’t have even five inches of margin to make another change.

“If the driver in front changes his mind, there’s literally nowhere to go. It’s lucky that Raikkonen didn’t hit Verstappen harder.”

And on Rosenqvist, the talented young Swede’s, maiden IndyCar test at Mid-Ohio and Indy Lights domination in Toronto:

“Felix was amazing, he just cleaned up in both races. So did Scott but unfortunately he got hosed on strategy again. Until the last pit stop he had everyone under control and looked like he was cruising to the easy win on top of the pole he got in qualifying. Unfortunately things have worked against Scott for the last three races.

“Going for the championship title is going to be very tough now. Scott’s had two engine failures that left him with no points – that’s at minimum 80 points that he missed out on, plus the win in Toronto. He probably could have won at Detroit and would have been 2nd at worst at Road America. That’s a lot of points to give away.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Mercedes fined for unsafe release, Hamilton avoids grid drop

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP sits in his car in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes has been fined €10,000 for unsafely releasing Lewis Hamilton into the pit lane during the final Formula 1 free practice session for the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was released into the fast lane at the start of FP3, forcing Haas driver Romain Grosjean to hit the brakes and come to a stop.

The stewards confirmed they would be investigating the incident after the session, meeting with Hamilton and a team representative at 12:30pm local time.

Hamilton entered the weekend with two reprimands to his name already in 2016, with a third resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

The precedent for unsafe releases was unclear, with penalties ranging from a reprimand to a grid drop and a fine.

The stewards at Hockenheim opted to go with the latter, fining Mercedes €10,000 for the incident, meaning Hamilton avoided any individual penalty.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

RC Enerson stars in first official day in Coyne’s No. 19 IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – On Friday, 19-year-old rookie RC Enerson delivered arguably one of the most impressive debut days in an IndyCar in recent memory – if not ever.

With only one day of testing, Enerson took what he learned from his first day last week and translated it into some seriously impressive practice pace for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Enerson went from 1.1042 seconds off the pace in the first 75-minute practice session in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 21st, all the way to within 0.5322 off in the second – all the way up to seventh in that session and second Honda in the field, only behind defending Honda Indy 200 race winner Graham Rahal.

That time in free practice two left Enerson a combined 10th on the day, again second among the Hondas only to Rahal.

It didn’t really surprise those who’ve followed his career in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires closely. However, it did wow the paddock at large.

It was fitting, perhaps, Enerson was behind Rahal and then was sat next to Scott Dixon in the day end press conference because Rahal also starred as a teenager in his first season in open-wheel – 2007 in Champ Car – while Dixon became IndyCar’s then-youngest winner at age 20 in his first season in CART in 2001… before Rahal beat that in 2008 at age 19.

“I grew up watching a lot of these guys race,” Enerson explained during the post-practice press conference. “My first Indy 500 was when I was three years old, and seeing these guys go around, and now I’m 19 years old and there’s a lot of the same guys still there.

“It’s kind of like I get to race with my idols, really,” he added, to a room full of laughter.

Dixon followed, “We must have had a good generation, I think.”

But putting aside the obvious “yeah, he’s young” line – trust me as the youngest full-time member in the IndyCar press corps I get that joke at least once per weekend – what Enerson did on Friday was take in a wealth of information the team was throwing at him and translate it into pace on paper.

“It was incredible. It’s completely different than anything I’ve driven, and coming from — every time I come here, I always tend to do alright, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.

“It’s got this thing about it that it fits the driving style really well, and I’m just excited to be here, and this is probably — it’s probably the best track to make my debut at.”

Enerson, as he told me prior to his race debut last week, noted the difference in the step up from the Cooper tires he used throughout his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career versus the Firestones now.

Enerson was really good at learning tire conservation there since there are no pit stops. But he noted the change in grip level on the Firestones, especially since the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is one of the highest grip tracks on the calendar.

“These ones tend to — after the first couple laps where you get your fast time, they tend to not fall off very much and you can keep your speeds up, and it’s amazing. It’s a completely different experience, and it’s challenging,” he explained.

On the tire note, where Enerson will have to learn, and learn quickly, is once he gets his first crack at the Firestone red alternates for qualifying later on Saturday, provided the session is dry.

“With the reds, we don’t get to see them. I’ve never driven on them, so the first time I’m going to get to see them is qualifying,” he said.

“So that’s what I think is the biggest thing for the rookies, I guess, is they don’t get to see those until it’s when it counts, so it’s hard to extract all that not knowing going into it, and I think that’s what comes with the experienced drivers where they’re able to know how much grip they’re actually going to gain to be able to push it to the max right off the bat.”

Still though, his debut impressed many in the IndyCar paddock.

Teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda told IndyCar Radio of Enerson, “We have RC here this weekend, and he’s new – but he’s doing a great job.”

Daly’s engineer Michael Cannon, himself a key talent evaluator in his long career in the sport, told me Enerson has “taken like a duck to water” to an IndyCar and is handling everything the team is throwing at him with aplomb.

And Dixon, arguably one of the best drivers of his generation? He knows what it’s like to “wow” people when you’re the new kid on the block, as he did some 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great to see young talent coming through. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of what we need to see,” he said.

“We’ve had a good influx of recent, and it’s pretty cool in the fact that we have a series that, okay, so there’s some bigger teams and some more teams that have done better jobs, but in layman’s terms, you pretty much have the similar equipment. So it’s nice that you can come, and if you’re good you can get close.

“The only hard part with rookies now is the testing program. At least this year was a little more open. It was good that RC had the opportunity to test here last week, but still, you’re competing against guys that have been coming here for years and they’ve had a ton of test days.

“It’s so close right now that you’re looking for hundredths and tenths of a second to make the difference.”