Matt Kenseth failed to finish the season-opening Daytona 500 and heads this weekend to Phoenix International Raceway, a track where he hasn’t finished better than 12th since 2010.
So, why is he so happy?
For one, before Kenseth drove his No. 20 Toyota into the garage at Daytona with engine issues, he had led 86 of the first 149 laps and was well-positioned to earn his third career win in the “Great American Race.”
His recent track performance at Phoenix not withstanding, Kenseth’s new home at Joe Gibbs Racing has him oozing with optimism.
“There’s a lot to look forward to,” Kenseth said after his day was cut short at Daytona. “As disappointed as I am, it would be easy to be disappointed and throw my Gatorade (bottle) at you or whatever.
“Man, there’s a lot to look forward to. I just can’t help sitting here thinking how thankful I am that they put this together for me and just can’t wait to get to Phoenix.”
That’s putting a pretty good face on a season that has started with a 37th-place finish.
“Obviously, we have to work and make it to the end of these races – you can’t drop out and win championships,” Kenseth said of his engine woes. “I feel like we have a great package at Joe Gibbs Racing and these guys did an awesome job all winter.”
JGR is only the second organization Kenseth has driven for in his Sprint Cup Series career, having spent his previous 14 seasons driving for car owner Jack Roush. Together, they won 24 Cup races and the 2003 Cup series championship.
Instead of re-signing with Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth elected to take advantage of an opportunity with JGR.
“We learned a long time ago unless you have the right guy behind the wheel, you’re wasting your time,” said JGR president J.D. Gibbs. “Matt is the guy for us.”
There were lots of preseason predictions Kenseth would benefit greatly from the move, but with anything in NASCAR, the proof is in the results.
Even with his 500 race cut short by 50 laps, Kenseth remained upbeat from his performance while on the track.
“I know we were sitting in the garage so everyone is going to thing we were bummed out and I am, but I can’t be any more thankful or excited honestly,” he said. “I don’t think Speedweeks could have gone any better.
“Our finishing position doesn’t show it, but it’s just a great group. I’ve got really, really fast race cars. If you have really fast race cars and we get some reliability stuff fixed then we’re going to win races and hopefully contend for championships.”
So for now, even with a disappointing finish in the Daytona 500, Kenseth remains confident in his choice.
“Right now I don’t think I could be in a better place personally or professionally,” he said. “I feel it’s the running NASCAR joke. Everybody says they are living the dream but I really feel I am.”