As the defending champion at Kentucky Speedway, you would figure that this weekend would be the best opportunity Matt Kenseth has to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win.
Last year’s race at Kentucky was one of seven that Kenseth won in his inaugural season with Joe Gibbs Racing. But while Kenseth has remained steady enough to be fourth in overall points this year, he hasn’t yet recaptured the blistering pace he seemed to have week in and week out last year.
“Sometimes, things change differently than maybe you think they would have,” Kenseth said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “I think that with the rules changes, the aero changes…We just haven’t got a hold of it as fast as we did last year.
“Last year, we just came out of the box and we were really strong right away, where this year we’ve still been searching, honestly, just to get right where we need to be.”
The last three races have been the toughest stretch of the season so far for Kenseth. After mid-pack finishes at Pocono and Michigan, he was taken out in a hard crash last Sunday at Sonoma after Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with him and sent him into a tire barrier.
But Kenseth puts emphasis on staying on an even keel regardless of the results. To him, it’s one of the most important parts of the job and it’s helpful when things hit a rough patch.
“Things in general are usually not as great as they seem when they are going great and they are not as bad as they seem when you are struggling a little bit,” he said. “So I think you’ve just got to keep that focus, keep working on it, keep trying to figure out how you can get better, how you can do a better job at doing your part, how you can help your team more.
“I think everybody just has to keep working on it, and you know, it’ll turn around sooner than later. Everybody always hopes for instant success, and you always hope it turns around on the sooner side. The fact is you’ve got to keep working on it and give it 100 percent, and it’ll come back around.”
It could come back around this weekend at Kentucky, where Kenseth will also compete in the Nationwide Series race on Friday.
Today, Kenseth also addressed reports of one of his main sponsors, Home Depot, deciding to leave the sport at the end of the season.
The home improvement chain has been involved in NASCAR since the late 1990s. But in recent years, it’s dialed down its primary backing as Dollar General has gradually gained the majority of the races on Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota.
“It’s not something I’m concerned about, but I really don’t know much about it, either,” he said about the matter. “The thing that I do know is they’ve been a great partner at Joe Gibbs Racing for a lot, a lot of years, and NASCAR, as well.
“I’m really not sure what their future plans are. We’re focused on really trying to get our cars running a little bit better right now, hopefully get up there and get a win and get in the Chase.”