After being in the center of controversy following failing post-race technical inspection after the Kansas win, everybody thought we’d see a falter in the Joe Gibbs Racing team. However, that wasn’t the case as Kenseth sat on the pole at Richmond before coming home with a strong finish.
“Obviously I think we all here at Joe Gibbs Racing, we wanted to try to win that race,” he said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make that happen. Had a good car most of the night, strong car most of the race, pretty decent at the end, too. Just caught up in that outside with all the varying pit strategies and just got boxed behind the cars and then didn’t quite get the finish there that we hoped for, but we did have a good, strong, solid night. Looking forward to going to Talladega.”
Kenseth isn’t set to dwell on that Kansas penalty as he feels his team has a shot to win at Talladega.
“Daytona was really good for us and I thought it was a really good speed week,” he said. “Learned a lot throughout Speedweeks, and I felt like we kept getting better and stronger. And by the 500 I felt like as an organization, we had all three cars where we needed them to be before we had our problems. So hopefully we can take that momentum and go to Talladega and carry that on.”
Last year, Kenseth had an average finish of 2.0 across the four restrictor plate races with Roush-Fenway Racing, including winning the Daytona 500 and the fall race at Talladega.
“That was a pretty gawdy number, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to do that again,” Kenseth commented.
Kenseth is looking for the same success this year. He was running in the top three at Daytona in February when he had an engine failure.
“Hopefully going back to Talladega, our cars will have some speed in them again and we’ll be able to make it 500 miles and hopefully be up front and be in that mix,” he commented.
With the new Generation 6 car, nothing much carried over from last year’s restrictor plate success according to the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Toyota.
“I won’t say anything really carried over from last year and where it was before or any of that kind of stuff,” he commented. “More just started off testing this winter and working on these cars and we just continue to try to do that.”
Kenseth, though, mentions that he was glad to see the tandem racing go away as it didn’t fit with his comfort style.
“You had a little more control over your own destiny than having to depend on somebody the whole race and having them depend on you,” Kenseth commented.
There are also the unique dangers that loom at Talladega and Daytona with the threat of the big wreck.
“The first thing you think of when you think of Talladega — and you want to be honest, you think of a wreck, as a fan or driver or whatever, that’s usually what comes to your mind is big packs of cars and big wrecks,” Kenseth said. “So certainly I think it’s on your mind a little bit more. I don’t know, I think the racing is a little different than what it was last year with this particular car. I think it’s going to be a little bit of a learning experience for everybody.”
With seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. have to sit out two weeks last year due to a concussion and Denny Hamlin now out for a month due to his back injury, it’s a reminder to drivers of what could happen in that wreck. Kenseth says its a reminder that everybody is human.
“Things can happen. We are going really, really fast in these cars, we are setting track records everywhere,” he said. “Certainly it’s just human nature. You know, we went through a really dark period where a lot of people got hurt, a lot of bad things were happening, and it was on everybody’s mind more than normal. And then we went through a real long period where you’ve seen some just horrendous wrecks and watch people walk away from them and everybody’s okay.
“You know, I think you always have to take safety seriously and keep working on your cars and the tracks and you know, pit road, everything to keep the environment as safe as you can for everybody.
“But certainly when you go through a period where people don’t get hurt, it’s not on your mind nearly as much so I think that when you do see people get hurt and have to miss time and all that, it’s certainly a reminder that things can happen.”
Besides the engine failure at Daytona, Kenseth has been off to a solid start this year with a pair of wins at Las Vegas and Kansas. Kenseth says with the success, he has a lot of confidence in his team.
“These guys are really, really good and we’ve had — our performance has been nothing short of spectacular all year,” he said. “Although we don’t have all the finishes to show for it, I’m real thankful to have two wins. We had a couple races where everything worked out all right. I feel really good with where we are at today, still obviously trying to move forward, get the cars faster, me do a better job on track, all that stuff.
“I certainly feel good about where we are from a performance standpoint only being here nine races into the year, and you know, hopefully we can keep that moving forward.”
Though even with that said, Kenseth knows that he has room to improve as a team can never stop improving.
“Every team is out there trying to figure out every day, every week, every race, how to get better and how to beat their competition,” he said. “So you can never rest, that’s for sure. You’ve got to keep working on it. We are constantly trying to figure out how we can improve and how to get better.”