Congratulations, Matt Kenseth. You’ve just won the biggest race in NASCAR, the Daytona 500, for the second time in your career.
What are you going to do next?
Winning The Great American Race comes with big perks. But it also comes with a mountain of expectations — and nobody is more aware of that than Kenseth.
There’s the immediate attention, of course, including trips to major media markets before moving on to the next racetrack. But there’s also the pressure of starting the season on top and then trying to stay there in the quest to achieve the ultimate goal, winning the Sprint Cup championship.
Make no mistake about it, Kenseth, a week removed from turning 40, isn’t satisfied with just one big trophy this year.
“I always think of Daytona like a separate event or separate season,” said the driver of the No. 17 Best Buy Ford. “We’re down there so (long), and once it’s over you get to the (next) racetrack and you put that behind you and get ready to start working on the rest of the season because the rest of the season is definitely a grind and there’s lots of different tracks that you have to go to and perform at.
“I think every year you aim to win the championship. That’s what everyone’s ultimate goal is — to win the championship. That’s first and foremost your goal each and every year. Obviously, I haven’t been able to do that (since 2003). You always want to win races along the way. Sure, you can pick things out and say, ‘I want to win a Brickyard 400,’ that’s on your list. But when it comes down to it, each and every week you are out there with the idea of trying to win.”
As one of only nine drivers to win The Great American Race twice, the Roush Fenway Racing veteran feels more prepared to achieve both significant accomplishments.
“We won the 500 (in 2009), we got out to California and actually won that, too. It was crazy to start off the year with two wins,” Kenseth said. “It seemed like we were destined for a wonderful season.
“Then we had a lot of different things go wrong that season. We went to Vegas and blew an engine on, I think, Lap 2 and finished dead last the third race of the year. We had two wins and a last-place finish in the first three weeks. We had little problems here and there that held us back that kept us out of the Chase (for the Sprint Cup).”
Bold thoughts by a driver who’d just won a race that had eluded so many before him, and though the rest of the season didn’t go as he had hoped, his words were far from hubris.
In his 15 years of racing in the Sprint Cup Series, Kenseth has put together an honor roll of accomplishments: Rookie of the Year in 2000, International Race of Champions titlist in 2004, 22 career Sprint Cup wins and the 2003 Cup championship by leading the standings for 33 straight weeks.
That alone makes him one of the standout drivers at Roush, one of the greatest organizations in NASCAR history, and also makes a compelling case for entry in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
But he doesn’t like to reflect; he has much more he wants to accomplish.
“I think someday (I’ll look back at the history),” Kenseth said. “You don’t want to say it doesn’t matter to you, but at this point — I don’t know if it’s a good habit or a bad one — I try to really look forward and not backward too much.
“Once we get to the track, you take the ring off and put away and get to work on Phoenix next and things we want to do the rest of the season.”
Winning your sport’s biggest event usually leads to a big celebration, or perhaps answering the “What are you going to do next?” question by making a visit to a certain theme park in Florida or California.
But for Kenseth, it means turning his attention to Phoenix for Sunday’s race (coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX) and 34 more stops on the Sprint Cup circuit. What he does after winning the Daytona 500 is what matters most right now.