Since joining the NASCAR Winston Cup tour in 2000, Matt Kenseth has made plenty of on-track headlines by winning the division's Rookie of the Year title and a fistful of events to boot. Off the track, the unassuming Kenseth is hardly a headline grabber, preferring to fly as far away from the media flame as possible. With a possible Winston Cup championship on the horizon in 2003, we decided it was time to give him an opportunity to discuss a host of different topics. Luckily, he agreed to this frank and freewheeling Stock Car Racing interview.
SCR: You're a Ford driver and your team owner, Jack Roush, is a real "Red, White, and Blue" kind of guy. What do you think about Toyota coming into NASCAR racing?Kenseth: Everyone seems to be worried because Toyota has come into other series and dominated. I don't see that happening in NASCAR because everything is so regulated. The cars are so similar with the common templates and with all the chassis dyno stuff NASCAR does to keep the engines close, I don't think Toyota will change the competition level much. There's only so much room to work anymore. Knowing Jack, I don't think I will ever get a chance to race a Toyota, so I'm not too concerned about it.
SCR: There's been a lot of discussion about "diversity" in NASCAR these days. What do you think minority candidates should be doing to get into the sport today?Kenseth: I don't think it matters what or who you are. What does matter is if you grew up racing, understanding how to build a race car, and how one works. It's important to go to the racetrack every week and hang around to learn what the sport is all about. You know, I couldn't decide to be a basketball player tomorrow if I never hung around it or never worked at it. You just can't decide to be a racer overnight either. It takes time and it takes work. I don't think racing cares whether you're black or white, a guy or a girl. What does matter is that you work at it and get qualified to do it.
SCR: Did you ever seriously think of another career or line of work outside of racing?Kenseth: I always thought I would have to work to support my racing habit. As a kid, I was always interested in mechanics, whether it was tearing down a lawnmower, go-cart, or a minibike. My dad and his brothers raced, so I was always interested in it. I never thought it would come to a point where I would be able to do it full-time and make a living at it. I never had any aspirations to do anything else, but I also never dreamed it would come to where I am now.
SCR: Who were the guys who helped you the most as you got involved in racing?Kenseth: Obviously, Mark Martin has helped me a lot. So has my dad. Joe Shear gave me tons of advice back in my short-track days. A lot of it holds true today and is why my personality is the way it is. Joe calmed me down a lot. Robbie Reiser has given me a lot of good advice. So did Dick Trickle back in the Busch series. Rich Bickle told me I needed to do the Busch deal with Robbie no matter what. I didn't want to back out of my ASA deal at the time, but Rich told me I had to do it. I've been fortunate to get good advice from a lot of good people along the way.