NASCAR: Matt Kenseth continues hunt for first win of year at Kentucky

Leave a comment

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.”

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
1 Comment

Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”