12 Questions with Kyle Busch (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews takes the green flag for its ninth season with Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast and are also transcribed. You can find previous interviews with Busch at the bottom of this post.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Not that often, really. I’m actually not a dreamer, I guess. When I was a kid, I dreamt a lot. I remembered a lot of dreams. But since I’ve gotten older, I really don’t dream a whole lot that much anymore. I don’t sleep all that well. Like I don’t get into deep, deep sleeps very often. I don’t know what that is.

Funny story. Last year when I was at Bristol Motor Speedway, after the Truck race, it wasn’t until like 2 in the morning that I went to bed. (Wife) Samantha and (son) Brexton, they weren’t there, so finally when I crashed out and I went to bed, I was out-out. That was the deepest sleep I remember since Brexton’s been born, and I woke up in the morning and I was like, “Oh my God, where the hell am I?” You ever have any of those, like in a hotel room? Like, “What city or what state am I in?” I was like, “Where am I?” And it took me a second. Man, that was the best I’ve slept in a long time. I don’t get those very often.

You’re like, “Oh yeah, I won Bristol?”

I did. I woke up and I was like, “Oh yeah, I think I won last night.”

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

I think if you get into them intentionally, I don’t think it matters if you apologize. I think if you get into them accidentally or unintentionally, then I think it should mean a little bit when you apologize, you know?

How do they know?

Well, you go up and tell them, “Man, look: I’m sorry, I did not mean to do that. That was totally my bad, I did not mean to do that.” But obviously, if you kind of get into somebody and then you don’t ever go talk to them afterwards, they’re kind of like, “Oh, OK. Well, I guess he kind of meant to.”

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Well that’s like tooting your own horn, so I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of compliments over the years and I’ve a lot of non-compliments over the years. I guess, people all the time want to compare you to other drivers and I always kind of say that you can’t always compare somebody to somebody else who’s not in the same era. People want to say, “You’re like Dale Earnhardt” or “You’re like Richard Petty” or whatever and his 200 win thing. It’s not the same. It’s what I’m doing in my time right now, and it’s not the same as what they were doing in their time back then.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

Two years ago, they brought Peyton Manning to the Bristol Motor Speedway. Actually, Nationwide brought him, but NASCAR let some of us know and they knew I was a big Peyton fan. So I was like, “That’s cool, I’d certainly like to have my time to talk to him or meet him, shake his hand, that sort of stuff.” I also maybe took like three or four of my favorite items of Broncos gear to the side and gave them to those guys and even spelled out on a piece of paper and wrote, “Sign here in silver” and “Here’s the silver (pen) that actually works,” and stuff like that. Yeah, I was that guy. I did that with Peyton Manning.

So who else would I be that kind of guy with? I’ve never met (Tom) Brady yet, so Brady would probably be one of those guys. But that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m more into the sports world than anywhere else. No politics. Movie stars? Not really.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

If it was for more than one week.

Just for one race.

No. No, no. I haven’t won enough poles in my career that I think that’s mattered — where I’ve ever won a race because I had the No. 1 pit box. So, no, I wouldn’t swap.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished.

Fantastic. This ought to be good. So you give me clues?

No, I’m just going to ask you. I have some information about the race, but I don’t remember it, either. Where did you finish in the 2016 July New Hampshire Cup race?

Spring New Hampshire of 2016… uh, let’s see. Last year was 2017, so the year before that, July… spring… I’m gonna go with fourth.

It was actually eighth.

Was that the one where I had two speeding penalties? I didn’t remember if it was that race or if it was last year’s spring race that I had two speeding penalties.

I’m not sure. You led 133 laps. You started second. And something must have happened. Matt Kenseth won. That’s all I know. I just went and looked at Racing Reference.

Well leading 133 laps of 300, that means I was up front a lot of the day and I probably threw it away at the end. So yeah, it sounds like the one where I sped twice on pit road. (Editor’s note: After looking it up, that was last year’s July New Hampshire race.)

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Oh man. This is like asking who the best President ever was. You get in a lot of trouble with fans these days and whose opinion matters most, which none of them do.

My favorite of all time, which I’ve always listened to, has been Eminem. I enjoy listening to Eminem and kind of hearing what his take is. Obviously, he’s kind of graphic sometimes and a little bit dirty or whatever. But I know a little about Tupac. He’s obviously really good.

You know who the guy to ask this question would be? Mark Martin. Mark Martin would absolutely know for sure who the best rapper is. So if you can get in front of Mark, he’ll be able to tell you that.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Every single one of them.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Tom Hanks is used to being alone (in Castaway), so he can be the motorhome driver. He’d probably find his own Wilson somehow.

LeBron seems to be pretty good at playmaking, play-calling, things like that, so I’d say he’d be the best at being the crew chief.

And I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to listen to Taylor on the radio all day long being your spotter, but I can always turn that one down — or off.

Do you ever turn your spotter down?

I don’t remember where it was or what year it was, maybe it was (former spotter Jeff) Dickerson, and he was just talking so much. I don’t really remember what was wrong, maybe I was going backward and we just sucked and we were just fading and he was always just telling me, “Car inside, inside,” or whatever and I was like, “I’ve got it! Just shut up! I don’t need your help anymore.” So I have told my spotters to shut up before. That’s when I’m in a bad mood going backward. Those things tend to happen.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Two things: You have a good PR guy, and he kind of scopes it out a little bit, and you have a really good bus driver, and he’ll scope it out for you, too. And if you have a really, really, really good bus driver — which I do, mine’s the best out there — he’ll actually go by the john and kind of stand there and when you’re on your way up, watch where I’m coming and he won’t let anybody else in. Then I’ll have the one I can get into and not have to stand outside of it and wait.

We do need help at some of these racetracks if anybody’s listening, to get the port-o-johns on pit road. Like Indy, it’s kind of tight there, but man, there is nowhere to go to the bathroom. You have to go back in the pagoda, and you have to go to the second floor to go to the bathroom. That’s the only spot to go to the bathroom before the race at Indy!

Is there a line?

Yeah! Typically you’re waiting like three, four guys, and the NASCAR officials, they’re right there too because that’s race control, so they want to go to the bathroom. And there’s only two stalls, you know? So racetracks, we need some help with restrooms on pit lane, please.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

No, I’m not gonna answer that one. You can’t do that one. I would say who would be the best to do the Carl Edwards now, right?

Who would be?

Noah (Gragson), I think would be.

He can climb a fence.

Well, I think we can all climb a fence. He can also throw up, too. I think Noah would be the one that can probably get it figured out, I just don’t know how athletic he is. He seems to kind of be on that wild side, wild enough that he kind of wants to have something like that. So I would say Noah should be voted in for doing the backflip. 

But as far as them writing a check, I don’t know. It would take a certain amount of money and I could probably figure out how to learn to do a backflip, but I’m not gonna say how much.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last year, I ended the season interviewing Landon Cassill. He wanted me to ask: What is your driving style? Do you use a lot of brake? Do you get to the gas earlier than most?

Well, anybody can look at my style nowadays with the new data. Information’s gonna be available to everybody. They can pick and choose. I wish I had that when I was a rookie. I certainly wouldn’t have waited 13 years to win a championship. So that’s a whole other topic.

What’s my style like? Places you go, you’ve gotta be different. Some places you go, you’ve gotta drive into the corner hard and let it roll and let it get back out of the corner. Some places you go, you’ve gotta be rolling out nice and slow and easy and letting the thing kind of set and get into the corner nice and smooth, and then hammer the gas on exit. Other places you’ve gotta roll into the throttle on exit. It all depends on where you go.

Typically, for however many years, the saying has been, “Easy in, hard off.” So you kind of let it float in, get in there easy, get the tires all set, and then you mash the gas and try to drive out of the corner really, really hard and strong and get a good run down the straightaways. The straightaways are your friend, especially when you have good horsepower under the hood. That’s the time in which you cannot lose or gain as much ground to the rest of your competitors.

Interesting. I might use that for video games or something.

Yeah, video games for sure. Easy in, hard off on video games. No question. You cannot drive it too far into the corner in a video game; it just doesn’t work.

Do you have a question I can ask the next person?

With life on the road so much, how do you balance your travel and your motorhome and where you eat and whether you go out to eat or whether you cook in? How do you balance what you feel like you want to do on a given weekend? Is it because you go to a cool town like Las Vegas that you’re gonna eat out every night, or is it BFE nowhere, somewhere like Pocono or Loudon, whatever, and you’re gonna stay in and just cook out? How do you balance all that?

——

Kyle Busch 12 Questions interviews through the years:

May 25, 2011

April 18, 2012

April 10, 2013

March 12, 2014

August 11, 2015

October 13, 2016

February 22, 2017

The Top Five: Breaking down the Michigan race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway…

1. Oh, that restart

Kyle Larson’s brilliance behind the wheel of a race car — it doesn’t matter what kind — is the sort of raw ability that every race fan can appreciate. And that was on display for all to see on Sunday.

Larson’s fourth-to-first move on the overtime restart — first slicing his way up the middle, then getting right to the bottom before anyone had time to really counter — was perhaps the best moment of his NASCAR career so far.

Today’s NASCAR is so much about the car and less about the driver, but Larson has shown several times how much the driver still matters. He is willing to try things others do not or cannot, and it provides for quite a show whether the attempt succeeds or fails.

This time, it worked — and Larson completed a week where he forced those who scoffed at his “last true racer” comment several months ago to wonder if maybe he was right.

2. Truex vs. Kyle

In the majority of races this season, the fastest cars have been either Truex or Kyle.

It’s just that the “Kyle” role has switched between Larson and Busch.

Larson was leading the points until he dropped off a cliff recently and tumbled to third with five finishes outside the top 20 in a seven-race stretch. It looked like he lost all his momentum as the Toyotas took over, but questions remained whether that was a product of losing his crew chief to a suspension.

That meant Michigan was going to be a huge test: Would Larson run well on a 2-mile track (a layout which has now generated all four of his career victories)? If not, that would seem to confirm his summer slump.

Apparently, things are just fine. Even though Larson didn’t have a dominant day, he was there at the end and figured out a way to win.

We’re back on the bandwagon now. Pencil him back in for the Final Four at Homestead, along with Truex, Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

3. Kenseth’s nightmare scenario

Matt Kenseth was in a lose-lose situation on the final restart that ended up with the lesser of two evils.

Going into overtime, Kenseth lined up third — on the inside of the second row — behind Erik Jones. His best shot would have been to push Jones on the restart and hope he could make it three-wide, but that could have resulted in a Jones victory.

And that was not going to be good for Kenseth. A new winner from below Kenseth’s spot in the points could have knocked him out of the playoffs (he’s currently holding on to the last spot). Plus, it would have meant helping Jones, the driver who is replacing Kenseth, get his first career win. That probably wouldn’t feel great.

I am not sure what happened and didn’t see any quotes from Kenseth after the race. But on the restart, Kenseth appeared to lay back and try to get a push from Chase Elliott (either that, or he spun his tires).

Ultimately, Kenseth ended up with a flat tire in the ensuing mess and finished 24th. He’s now 31 points ahead of Clint Bowyer for the final spot (see standings below) with three races to go.

The overtime finish cost Kenseth roughly 20 points, which is pretty painful in the battle for a playoff spot. But actually, that wasn’t the worst-case scenario. Because if Jones had won, Kenseth might not have had any points race to worry about at all.

4. Did you notice?

Chris Buescher is having a much better season this year than 2016, when he made the playoffs thanks to his rain-shortened Pocono win.

Buescher finished sixth at Michigan — his best finish of the year — and was right in the mix for a top five on the overtime restart. That was really impressive for a car that doesn’t typically contend there.

Overall, Buescher has improved his average finish from 26.1 to 20.7, already has as many lead-lap finishes as all of last year (11) and picked up his third top-10 of the season.

He’s not going to make the playoffs this season, but he’s trending in the right direction regardless.

5.  Uncertain futures

Bubba Wallace’s victory in the Truck Series race on Saturday was both a feel-good story and a frustrating reminder of the state of NASCAR.

Wallace has been sitting at home for a month, got into a truck for a one-off deal — and won. That’s great on the surface, because everyone watching probably went, “Yes! This will help his chances of getting a ride — and he deserves it.”

But will he get one? Despite being both talented and marketable, there’s no good news yet.

It’s the all-too-familiar problem of today’s NASCAR: Unless a driver personally has money — whether through family or a loyal sponsor — he can only hope the exact right opportunity at the exact right time magically comes his way.

I got another reminder of this on Sunday while watching the race with Gracin Raz (we recorded the post-race podcast, which you can find here). Raz finished fourth in K&N West Series points as an 18-year-old and then was fifth last year. Now 20, Raz has been forced to cut to a part-time schedule running a Late Model he and his dad work on in their garage.

We were chatting during the race and I was asking what the next steps are. The answers aren’t clear, but the solution is: Money. There’s not really much — if anything — Raz can do to jump in a car and prove himself, because that’s not what matters. It’s what money he can bring somewhere to get an opportunity.

Here’s a talented young driver who was just starting his career (and won a K&N West race in 2015), but there’s no pathway forward. The ladder to the top has broken rungs. The same can be said for Wallace, who waits in the same situation — just at a higher level.

It’s a sobering reminder: How many young drivers are there out there, scattered across the country, who could excel if they got the right opportunity?

Sadly, only a lucky few will ever find out — and that’s not healthy for a sport that should be built on the best talents.

———–

PLAYOFF PICTURE

By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble with four races to go:

14. Chase Elliott +62

15. Jamie McMurray +52

16. Matt Kenseth +31

—-

17. Clint Bowyer -31

18. Joey Logano -98

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

The Top Five: Breaking down the Pocono race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway…

1. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch?

Kyle Busch haters can skip over this part, but the guy is a serious championship contender despite not having won in more than a year until Sunday.

For most of the season, the best car each week has been either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Larson. But Busch has been creeping into the picture lately, and he’s been the one to battle Truex the last couple weeks while Larson hasn’t shown as much speed (even before incidents which resulted in finishes of 28th and 33rd).

Busch hadn’t won since the 2016 Brickyard 400 and Joe Gibbs Racing hadn’t won all season until two weeks ago, so everyone has been busy talking more about that than how the 2015 Cup champ might have a pretty good shot to do it again.

Busch has the most poles, second-most laps led and third-most top-five finishes this season. And perhaps most important, he is now tied for the third-most playoff points with Larson and Brad Keselowski.

As JGR continues to gain speed, Busch has been out front the most. He’s led at least 74 laps in four straight races now. That’s a very dangerous car for his rivals to deal with.

“… We’ve had speed, we’ve been right there, we’ve been able to do what we should be doing: That’s running up front,” Busch said. “It’s just been a bit frustrating on the finishing side.”

It’s scary, because with all the near-misses until Sunday, you get the feeling the No. 18 team hasn’t even performed to its potential yet. If Busch and his team start converting all the close calls into wins? Watch out.

2. What’s the point?

Speaking of championship contenders, I was puzzled by the No. 78 team’s decision to pit late in Stage 2 and give up what seemed like a sure playoff point — which would have made 30 on the season.

I get that Truex and Cole Pearn were going for the win, which meant sacrificing a stage win. Had it worked, they would have made a trade for four additional points than a stage victory brings.

But that’s only if it works. It didn’t. So instead of one playoff point, the team left with zero.

“That was the gamble,” Truex said. “That was our mindset before the race. We figured if we felt like we were good enough to possibly win the race, we’d have to pit before the end of that second stage. Just stuck to our plan.

“It didn’t work out, so obviously now I wish we would have stayed out and won that stage. That’s part of it.”

I can’t recall every situation that led to 14 stage wins for Truex this season, but it seems like the team had been going all-out for playoff points every week until Pocono. And as has been discussed frequently, those points are going to be a massive factor this fall in deciding who makes it to Homestead. So why not take as many as possible when the opportunity presents itself?

Truex and Pearn had an easy one point, gambled for four more and ended up with none. That’s what a team in a trailing position should do, not the leader.

This was like a basketball player passing on a wide-open layup with a 20-point lead; there’s no need to take a contested three in that situation.

3. A different level of speed

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pumped after finishing 12th, pleased he and the No. 88 team “finally put one together” and had a “complete race” despite an early speeding penalty. Earnhardt ran in the top 10 for much of the second half of the day — something he didn’t anticipate after fighting a loose condition on corner entry all weekend.

But even on a good day, he wasn’t really close to running with the top cars.

“Man, I don’t know where the speed is that the front three or four have,” he said on pit road after the race. “They’ve got it every week. We don’t have that, and we’re not going to find in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don’t show up with it, we’re not going to find it. That’s somewhere in the shop.”

Earnhardt said it was probably only a matter of time before Busch started matching Truex’s speed, given the information-sharing arrangement between alliance partners JGR and Furniture Row Racing.

But he’s not sure where the speed is coming from, and that’s concerning.

“It’s nothing you can visually see,” he said .”We’re all in the garage together. We can see under their cars, see the springs they’re running, stuff like that. But it’s not in anything like that.

“They’ve got a lot of speed somehow. They’ve got a lot more speed than everybody else. Gotta give ’em credit.”

4. Season slipping away for Logano

Joey Logano’s season of misery just keeps snowballing as the playoffs approach all too quickly for his team’s liking.

Sunday was another race where everything seemed to go wrong.

Not only did the team lack the speed it needed to be competitive, but both Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon made mistakes on pit road.

Logano was caught speeding with 36 laps to go and had to serve a pass-through penalty under green, but then locked up his tires coming to pit road. When Logano told the team he hurt his tires enough to possibly incur a flat, Gordon quickly made the call to pit for four tires.

But that was a no-no, because pitting while serving a penalty requires another pass-through down pit road. By the time it was all over, Logano finished 27th and one lap down.

The result was Logano’s eighth finish outside the top 20 in the 12 races since he won at Richmond but had the win ruled to be encumbered. He’s now 69 points behind the cutoff with just five races until the playoffs begin.

I caught up with Logano as he was walking glumly away from his car on pit road and asked whether he’s ever faced such a stretch of adversity in his career.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

But Logano said his team “still knows how to do it” and added “we’ve just got to built some momentum back up.”

The thing is, momentum might not be necessary. It just takes one great race (or one good race where everything falls into place) to make the playoffs, and Logano is certainly capable of doing that.

There’s not much time left, though.

5. Sunday doubleheader (kind of)

Qualifying on the same day as the race was kind of weird, even though there were a lot of positives on paper.

The flow of race day seemed all messed up, and the laid-back atmosphere that qualifying brings took away from the typical Sunday morning vibe — where the anticipation builds in the hours before the event.

Maybe I’ll get used to it (a similar schedule will be tried again next week), and I hope that’s the case — because there definitely some good sides of it. Fans get added value with on-track activity before the race itself (some of whom never get to see a Friday session at the track because they don’t come for the whole weekend) and drivers/teams get an extra day at home (after all, the Cup Series really doesn’t need to be at some of these tracks for three days).

 

I just wish the schedule could be tightened up a bit. After qualifying, there was roughly a 45-minute gap until the drivers meeting, then a 90-minute gap until the green flag.

Lunchtime quietly rolled by without much fanfare, and the sun started to shift in the sky before the race finally went green at 3:21 p.m. ET.  People were just milling around waiting for it to start.

But come on — this is NASCAR! Big-time auto racing, right? It shouldn’t feel like waiting for the leaders to tee off at a golf tournament.

 


PLAYOFF PICTURE

By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble:

14. Chase Elliott +39

15. Jamie McMurray +38

16. Matt Kenseth +17

—-

17. Clint Bowyer -17

18. Joey Logano -69

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

Joe Gibbs defends Furniture Row pit crew suspensions

Joe Gibbs gave a simple defense of his decision to suspend two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members who work for his race team.

Why the suspensions?

“Because of their action and what they did,” he told a small group of reporters Sunday morning at Pocono Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew is employed by Joe Gibbs Racing, so Gibbs had the authority to suspend them after two crewmen confronted Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens after the two drivers wrecked at Indianapolis.

Gibbs said the video, filmed by FOX Sports, “didn’t capture everything that happened there,” though he wouldn’t elaborate on why.

“We always sit and we consider our employees very important to us and the way they act,” he said. “So anyway, we felt like we worked through it the right way.”

Gibbs also said he did not consider disciplining Stevens for his role in the altercation.

Why?

“Because everything that happened,” he said. “I think we took everything into consideration and did what we thought was best.”

Was Gibbs concerned about the criticism directed toward JGR and the appearance he was hurting the team’s top competitor?

“People are always going to say all kinds of things,” he said. “I don’t think we’re worried about that. And obviously, (the crewmen will) be back. That’s one of the best pit crews on pit road.”

More: My analysis of JGR’s decision on the suspensions

 

Thoughts on Joe Gibbs Racing suspending No. 78 team pit crew members

It seems like “Only in NASCAR!” moments happen every week lately, doesn’t it? And yet another one occurred Thursday when Joe Gibbs Racing suspended two members of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew for three races.

Yes, that’s right: JGR issued suspensions to a pair of crewman who pit the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 car — essentially JGR’s top competitor this season.

How is that possible? Well, FRR doesn’t have its own pit crew. As part of its alliance deal with JGR (which supplies FRR with cars), the No. 78 uses a JGR pit crew each week.

So when two of the pit crew members nearly got in a fight with Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens after the Brickyard 400, that was a BIG-TIME no-no.

I mean, think about it: Two employees of a company were screaming in the face of someone who was basically their superior. That would get you fired from a LOT of jobs, to be honest.

But although the suspensions were justified, the optics on this are terrible. Stevens didn’t start the confrontation — one of the crew members taunted the crew chief by clapping as he walked by — Stevens probably should have gotten some kind of public reprimand if the crew guys were going to end up losing three weeks of salary.

Otherwise, the general fan is understandably going to have a “If you can’t beat ’em, suspend ’em” reaction to what happened — no matter how much JGR and FRR try to explain that you can’t get in an altercation with a high-level person from the company that signs your checks.

Economics could push veteran drivers out of sport early, Denny Hamlin says

While there’s definitely a lot of merit to the young driver movement in NASCAR, there’s a flip side to the trend that has a big dollar sign attached.

Denny Hamlin, while acknowledging the influx of young talent into the sport, said hiring young drivers may not be what teams would prefer to do.

“It’s a shame the teams are not in a position to just put in who they want — put in the best guy available,” Hamlin said Friday during an appearance at the Indianapolis FedEx hub. “You wish the teams could operate and say, ‘You know what? We want this guy. We don’t care how old he is. We don’t care whether the sponsor likes him, because we have enough money in our company to field the car.'”

Hamlin said that because current teammate and free-agent-to-be Matt Kenseth is currently looking for a job despite still being at the top of his game.

“Without a doubt, Kenseth would be in a top-notch ride with a top-notch team if the business of NASCAR was run like that,” Hamlin said. “But it’s just not anymore. It’s tough to make money (for) these teams, and they need those sponsors to be OK with the drivers. … Kenseth, on talent, deserves to be in the sport for a fair amount of time.”

Veteran drivers, of course, demand a much higher salary than young drivers who are just happy to have the opportunity at the NASCAR Cup Series level.

Hendrick Motorsports hired unheralded Alex Bowman to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car, Erik Jones will replace Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing and Daniel Suarez replaced Carl Edwards this season.

So is Hamlin, 36, worried his driving days might end prematurely after seeing Kenseth and Greg Biffle pushed out of rides while in their mid-40s?

“Not as long as I have this company behind me — I don’t think so,” Hamlin said with a smile, motioning to a FedEx jumbo jet over his shoulder. He added: “I know my years are probably numbered and I probably know as far as I want to go.”

Denny Hamlin walks by a FedEx plane during a visit to the company’s Indianapolis hub on Friday. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

 

12 Questions with Matt Kenseth

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing. I spoke with Kenseth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Oh man. I feel like for me through the years, I’ve always never felt like I was an extra-gifted, talented driver, really. Especially earlier in my career before technology changed and everything, I felt like I understood cars probably better than some of the drivers that just came in and were just drivers. So I would say for me, more it’s been hard work and studying and doing all that more so than natural ability. 

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I don’t know. I’m not much of a salesman. I don’t know that I have much of a pitch.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I don’t know that there really is one away from the racetrack. I hate to, first of all, call driving race cars in a circle a “job.” It’s pretty much a dream to be able to drive race cars and get paid for it. I don’t know that there is a bad part or a hard part of the job away from the racetrack.

I guess one thing I’ve never really enjoyed and been nervous about is public speaking. So probably anytime I have to get up and give any kind of a speech is probably the worst part or scariest part for me.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Sure, why not?

You might be eating.

You can wait until my mouth isn’t full, but yeah.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I don’t know. I don’t really watch much coverage, so I’m not really sure what’s covered and what’s not.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Last one I texted would have been Jimmie (Johnson).

Were you going biking or something?

Yeah, I was just trying to see what the plan was for the weekend. I was solo this weekend, so I was trying to see when and where we were riding. Good guess.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

The drivers? I think it’s an entertainment business for sure. I think that people go to watch drivers, race cars, pit crews — they come to see the competition. So I don’t know if just the driver is necessarily an entertainer, but I think it’s obviously an entertainment business. Everybody comes to watch the sport to be entertained.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I try not to ever do it. Unfortunately, I have a couple times. But I try not to do it. They used to get fined for it, and it seems like they always find it, but you try your best to control your temper.

How do you feel when someone gives it to you, if that happens?

I don’t remember the last time I got one on the racetrack. Would have been a long time ago.

That’s a good thing.

I might not have seen it, but the last time I’ve seen it (was a long time ago).

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah. I don’t really keep any payback lists. I can’t remember anything that anybody’s ever done to me that I felt like was wrong or bothered me. Ever. (Keeps straight face.)

I don’t believe that, but we’ll just move on.

But yeah, I mean certainly, you try to always race people the way you want to be raced and then sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, then you start racing people the way they race you. I really feel like typically if you’re fair with people, they’re fair back with you.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know.

Do you want me to help you?

I guess.

I’ll say Dale Jr. Have you had dinner with Dale Jr.?

A real sit-down dinner? Probably not.

Jimmie Johnson?

I’ve had dinner with Jimmie Johnson. I thought these were my answers, not yours.

Well, I just felt like you maybe could use a lifeline. It’s like on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I don’t know. I would think of somebody famous would be like James Hetfield from Metallica or a movie star or something. I don’t really consider myself or my peers famous. The people I go to dinner with I think more of as friends, so it’s kind of a tough one to answer.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Man, I don’t know. Do you think there’s anything I can improve?

I think, except for that last answer, you’re perfect.

I think I’d like to improve on my dry humor a little bit. Nah, I don’t know. There’s a million things I can improve on. I don’t think you’ve got enough memory on your phone for all of those.

12. This is an important question because Denny Hamlin asked me to find a driver with at least six to seven years of experience to answer the following question. His question is: Who is your favorite teammate you’ve ever worked with, and who is the worst teammate you’ve ever worked with?

You can’t really pick a favorite. I’ve had a lot of teammates through the years, and I think picking a favorite is like picking a favorite child. By the way, some of my teammates have been very childish. So I don’t think you can pick a favorite.

Can you pick a worst?

You know, you can’t really pick a worst, either. But I will say that the first time around, Carl (Edwards) would have been for sure the most challenging teammate that I’ve had to get along with, and we’re probably both equally responsible for that because I would say we just didn’t really understand each other and we had very different personalities. So we definitely clashed the first time around. The second time around we got along great.

That sounds like the first time I interviewed Carl and the second time I interviewed Carl.

OK.

The next interview is with David Ragan. Do you have a question I can ask David?

You can ask him the same exact question.

Pass it along?

Yeah, just pay it forward.