Kenseth talks ambulance, 2018 plans; no to #10 ride

Toyota Racing - Matt Kenseth
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Playoff Media Day - Sept. 13, 2017

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was made available to the media during NASCAR's Playoff Media Day:

Q) Has NASCAR taken ownership of the issues from Saturday night?
KENSETH: "Which ones? Just the ambulance one? Oh, yeah, I don't know."

Q) Have you talked to them about it?

Q) What would you like to see done?
KENSETH: "About what? Oh, that particular instance, if we're talking about that, obviously they should have left pit road closed. The ambulance, I haven't watched it, it was by the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) all the way down to the backstretch. He kept going and entered pit road. They still opened it. So, I mean, that's an obvious one - they should have closed pit road for an extra lap."

Q) Have you seen an ambulance driver get lost or confused in a race before?
KENSETH: "Yeah. I think it was actually the spring Richmond race. I was driving around the infield for about five minutes with him. He was lost and couldn't find the care center. So thankfully I wasn't bleeding to death. Then the other one I think is after California or something like that. He drove so recklessly, it threw me right off the bench and I almost hit my head in the ambulance. So, yeah, there's been a couple instances this year actually."

Q) What constitutes a caution in your eyes?
KENSETH: "Yeah, I mean, I just think that they need to be consistent. If they want to be relevant with all of professional sports, they have to be consistent and they have to call them all the same. Whatever that's going to be is fine, but I think it needs to be consistent. It feels like from not calling it at Darlington, calling it at Richmond, was certainly not consistent from one week to the next, in my opinion."

Q) Have you made any progress on your plans for next year?
KENSETH: "I'm really worried about the next 10 weeks. I mean, the next 10 weeks will probably have enough problems to worry about without, you know, worrying about anything three or four months from now. So, no, I don't really have anything for you there."

Q) Should we consider you a candidate to replace Danica?
KENSETH: "No, nope. It's not me. I can tell you that, it's not me."

Q) Is it a good thing to just let it sort of settle because you don't know what will come up?
KENSETH: "Yeah, are you talking about next year again? Yeah, I mean, obviously they didn't keep me where I was at, which would have been my first choice. There's been a few other rides that were open that were good rides that got filled with other people. So, you know, I don't really know at this minute what's going to happen for next season. Like I said, I got 10 weeks to worry about trying to hopefully be in contention, try to win another championship, win some races. It's been a long time since I've been in Victory Lane. That's really on the top of my mind, is trying to get that done."

Q) With you not returning to JGR next year, how do you keep your team focused at the task at hand in the Playoffs?
KENSETH: "Well, I think if you have to keep your team focused, then you have issues. So, I mean, I think everybody's focused on trying to win. It's a really competitive sport. They certainly all have all the incentive in the world to perform at the highest level. They've been doing that. Especially on pit road the last three weeks, they've been killing it. I feel pretty good with where we're at, to be honest with you. Obviously we didn't have the finish this week, had problems, kind of got off a little bit in the middle of the race. But honestly I feel pretty good with where we're at right now."

Q) You're coming in with a points deficit. How does that change the mindset?
KENSETH: "Well, I mean, you can't do anything about any week except for next week right now. Obviously I wish we had more points. We had some chances to maybe win some more stages. We were leading that stage the other night when I locked the tires up a little bit and got a caution for that, didn't get that point. I mean, there's things like that you look at. Yeah, you wish you had more, but you don't. So I think the first round, as good as we've run, if we don't have any trouble, you should be able to get through the first round. I feel like we've been a top five ish car every week pretty much the last few months. If you can do that for the first three weeks, you'll move on to the next round, then kind of worry about that. Just one race at a time, try to get the finishes this first go around, and hopefully you can be fortunate enough to win some stages or some races and gather some points."

Q) With your team improving over the past several races, do you feel like you're catching up to Truex?
KENSETH: "There's always more speed to be found. I feel like, you know, obviously the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), probably the 77 (Erik Jones), those cars were a fair amount ahead of us early in the year. I feel like the 18 (Kyle Busch) caught up first. They hit on some stuff. They got running pretty competitively more so than the rest of us. Then the 11 (Denny Hamlin) has been better. I feel like we've been better. I feel like as a group we're finally getting somewhat caught up. Now more times than not they seem to have more speed than us during the race still, but I feel like we're definitely closer than what we were."

Q) What was Saturday like with emotions waiting to see if you made the Playoffs?
KENSETH: "Watching the end of the race in the motorhome, obviously you're like, 'Okay, I hope there's not a first time winner, hope we make it in.' But I said this Saturday night, and I mean it, that's 1/26th of the chances and races you had to gather as many points as you could or get a win to get into the Chase or the Playoffs. I realize it's the last race, so it feels like it's more important. It's really not. They're all equally important. The same amount of points awarded, same chance to get a win, all that stuff. We started the season off so terribly. I feel good about what we've done the last few months. A couple finishes I wish we had that were better. I feel good at least how we're running. We're definitely better, but I feel like we're in the mix."

Q) You had an epic tweet after the race also.
KENSETH: "That was real. I was leaving the track, couldn't get out of the tunnel because the ambulance was stopped, they were waving through. He was just stopped. We have sat there for, I don't know, it felt like an hour or something. Let's say it was five minutes. Actually Denny's (Hamlin) guy took that picture. They were stuck behind me in a golf cart, too. So, yeah, that was pretty ironic."

Q) Was there any discussions about possibly switching pit crews?
KENSETH: "No. Our pit crew has been awesome here the last few weeks. No. I was surprised that they switched. Just found out about that yesterday myself. Yeah, I was a little surprised. A little surprised they did that. That really hasn't been something we've done before at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). Maybe sometimes we could have, put all your eggs in the guy's baskets that were in the Playoffs. I was surprised that happened, but hopefully that will help both of them."

Q) Outside of Saturday, in your career what is the weirdest thing you've seen in a race that has impeded your race?
KENSETH: "I don't know. I've seen a lot of weird things. I mean, obviously the ambulance being parked on pit road, still open, it was one of the weirder ones. I still should have hopefully been able to stop and not run into the 14 (Clint Bowyer) as hard as I did. But, you know, I didn't. I've seen some weird things. Had the jet drier blow up. Had that guy run out on track at Watkins Glen for an autograph. That was pretty bizarre. Pretty flattering actually the more I think about it. I've seen some stuff through the years, for sure."

Q) Despite not having a win this year, with your track record for these next three, what does that do for you?
KENSETH: "I've been pretty fortunate through my career. We've been able to win at most racetracks, maybe not all of them, coming up. I think we have at most of them at one time or another. So it's really more about recent history, then what you can do this time around. But I feel pretty good with all the tracks coming up. Talladega is a total coin flip. Nobody knows what's going to happen there. But the rest of the tracks, like Phoenix is real off and on for us, but the rest of them I feel real good about."

Q) What about the next three tracks?
KENSETH: "Chicago has been decent for us. New Hampshire has been probably our best track the last two or three years, even though we got beat out a couple of them toward the end. We've had a chance to win the last four or five in a row. I got beat at the end in two of them. That's a great place for us. Dover has always been one of my favorites. So, yeah, definitely look forward to the first round."

Q) Everybody expects the Playoff drivers to win the races in the final 10. Which non Playoff driver do you think goes in there and steals the show or gets the upset win to surprise everybody?
KENSETH: "I mean, there's a lot of good drivers and teams that didn't make it. So, I mean, obviously the 22 (Joey Logano), he's been off this year for whatever reason, but since he's been over there, he's been a contender to win any given week. 77 (Erik Jones) has shown great improvement. Obviously the Furniture Row cars are really, really fast. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if you saw Erik win a race before the end of the year. Clint (Bowyer) is capable as well. There's a lot of guys that are capable. Those are the first three that probably pop into my mind."

Q) Is there ever a concern for a team to peak too early? Do you feel going into the Playoffs you're peaking at the right time?
KENSETH: "Well, I don't really like the term 'peaking' because I don't think you ever want to peak. Whenever you peak, that means you're going downhill on the backside of it. I feel like you're always trying to gain and get better. It's just some people are gaining or getting better at a faster rate than maybe you are, or maybe you are at a faster rate than them. I feel like we definitely have more momentum and we're performing better than we were three or four months ago, which obviously you always want to be at your best, but you certainly want to be your best at the end of the year."

Q) Anything for next year at this point? Are you looking, talking, signing deals?
KENSETH: "No, nothing really to report there. I mean, honestly I know I keep saying this, but it's true. I'm just focused on the next weeks. We got a good opportunity here still. So I don't know what's going to happen in 2018. But there's a lot to worry about yet in 2017 with 10 races to go, being in the Playoffs. Really that's my focus right now."

Q) You're okay with calling 2017 your final season if that happens?
KENSETH: "I didn't say that either. But I've said all along, I've done things I never dreamed I would have a chance to do. I never even thought I'd have a chance to race in the Cup Series full time before. I've been able to do that these years, have that success. I said 10 years ago if it all had to end that day, it was more than I ever dreamed of. It certainly has been way more than I ever dreamed of. Who knows what's going to happen next year. Like I said, I don't really have anything for you at this time."

Q) What do you think of the JGR crew swap between the 18 and 19 teams?
KENSETH: "We've never really done that. Actually I've never really seen them do that at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) before this year. I think mainly with Daniel (Suárez) being out, Kyle (Busch) having one of the strongest cars, he's been the fastest of the group at JGR lately. They've been kind of struggling, inconsistent on pit road. Really it's just an over the wall switch. The 19 guys, especially last year's, has been unbelievably fast. So I think they're just switching that. So competitive right now, they're just trying to give Kyle every edge they can because he is in the Playoffs."

Q) How have you seen Daniel Suárez grow this year in his first season in the Cup Series?
KENSETH: "Yeah, I mean, I've seen some progression from the beginning of the season. But really when I think of Daniel (Suárez), I got to watch him more last year running XFINITY Series. So he really impressed me last year. Now he improved from the start of his season to the end of the season, how he handled that pressure at Homestead and came through with the win, winning the championship. I mean, that was an amazing drive. It's been fun to watch him mature and learn."

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