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’ll say Dale Jr. Have you had dinner with Dale Jr.?
A real sit-down dinner? Probably not.
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.
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.