Kenseth's humor shines on Twitter
Matt Kenseth glanced at his phone and laughed.
“It’s a friend,” Kenseth said. “He wants to know what a tweet-up is.”
Welcome to 2011. Until Thursday morning, Kenseth didn’t know what a tweet-up was, either.
“I thought it was where everyone stands up and tweets,” Kenseth said. “Obviously, I was wrong.”
The driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford did enjoy the experience of the Roush Fenway Racing tweet-up, however, and has become one of the more popular athletes on Twitter. Kenseth, who opened his Twitter account on July 25, has rifled off 646 tweets . . . and counting.
This was Tweet 631: "Fulfilling a life long dream Thursday, having a tweet up! 10 am at roush hq in concord. See @misssprintcup there for wristbands."
Roush Fenway Racing earmarked 100 wristbands for the Thursday tweet-up, part of the company’s open house scheduled to parallel activities at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend. Organizers were surprised how popular attendance was compared to the 30 fans who participated in the spring event.
The solution: more wristbands.
Kenseth wowed the crowd as the opening act, then was followed by the Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) vs. Trevor (Bayne) Show — with a twist. The NASCAR Nationwide youngsters faced off on the dance floor instead of the track, imitating moves provided by a video game playing the '80s disco hit, “It’s Raining Men.”
“I didn’t get to see the dance,” Kenseth said. “I was going to stay and watch, then Ricky started giving me the stink eye, so I left. Ricky did not look happy to be dancing.”
While Kenseth missed the dance recital portion of the tweet-up, he was impressed by Stenhouse going all out to win the event. No, it wasn’t comfortable getting up in front of 100-plus people and dancing like crazy. But for the ultracompetitive Stenhouse, putting everything on the line for a victory — no matter how small — showed how driven he truly is.
“Here’s the thing with Ricky, he hates to lose,” Kenseth said. “He usually beats Trevor at everything. So he actually danced because he hates to lose, and he won. I don’t think you’ll catch me dancing, but you have to be a competitive person. You have to want to win — no matter what you’re doing.”
It’s that never-give-up attitude that has come to define Kenseth throughout his career. During his 12 years on the Cup tour, the 39-year-old has developed a knack of sneaking up to the front when some might count him out.
Anyone who has observed Kenseth’s career knows that. Those who follow Kenseth on Twitter have had the opportunity in the past few months to discover his devilish sense of humor.
So what don’t fans know about the driver who was once referred to as “Matt the Brat?”
“I would think after doing this for 14 to 15 years that they would know everything about me,” Kenseth said. “When you go on Twitter or do something, with everything that is available on the Internet and everywhere else, it amazes me that I always get asked, ‘What’s my favorite track?’ I get asked at hospitalities and interviews. I got asked today.
"That just blows me away. I get asked every time, every day. It’s been the same answer for at least four years."
For those who aren’t Kenseth fans — or racing enthusiasts who are new to the sport — the answer is Dover.
Another curious twist is Kenseth’s choice of toppings for sandwiches. Today, it’s ham topped with potato chips. It's a practice he picked up from Dale Earnhardt Jr., except Junior enjoyed Doritos between his meat and bread.
Kenseth’s NASCAR history has paralleled that of the sport’s Most Popular Driver. The “young guns” went toe-to-toe competitively first in the Busch (now Nationwide) Series, where Junior won titles in 1998 and '99 and Kenseth finished second and third, respectively.
The tide turned at the Cup level, however.
Kenseth was chosen Rookie of the Year in 2000 and won his first Cup title in 2003. Kenseth has 20 career wins compared to Junior’s 18, but the stark difference is the consistency between the drivers. Kenseth hasn't finished worse than 14th in the points standings. Since the inception of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kenseth missed the postseason competition just once, in 2009. Comparatively, Earnhardt is competing in just his third Chase.
While Kenseth and Earnhardt remain friends, they don’t frequent the same circles as they did in their youth. Unlike Kenseth, Junior refuses to use Twitter, but they still share a love of racing and football. And both are enjoying competitive runs in the Chase.
Another similarity between Kenseth and Earnhardt is that neither emulates his father's driving style.
Earnhardt has never really channeled his inner Intimidator.
Kenseth, who is fairly mild-mannered in and out of a race car, says the greatest lesson he learned from his father was honesty. But you will not see Matt mirror Roy Kenseth’s on-track antics.
“I don’t know if my dad taught me a lot of lessons about driving or about being behind the wheel," Matt Kenseth said. "Honestly, my dad and my personalities at the track and our driving styles and how we handle things at the track — we’re probably opposites.
“My dad was the guy who liked to run into people because he thought that was fun. That was like one of his favorite things. He was the guy that wanted to yell at people after the races or fights. When he raced and I was like 13, 14, I was the one calming him down.
"So we’re kind of opposites when it comes to our racing. I learned a lot from him, but sometimes you learn it in a different way.”
Kenseth has excelled in NASCAR by taking the high road. And son Ross, 18, an aspiring racer and freshman at Clemson University, appears to be following in his father's driving shoes.
“Ross is more like me,” Kenseth said. “He’s pretty calm. People tell me all the time that Ross is the spitting image of me, but it’s hard to for me to see. But I get the comparison all the time. Poor kid.”
Kenseth has set an exemplary example as a racer. And this year has been no exception: He has recorded two wins, two poles, nine top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. His Chase has been exceptional, as well — with the exception of Chicagoland Speedway, where Kenseth started on the pole and led 46 laps before running out of fuel on the final lap.
“I wish we would have had another gallon-and-a-half of gas at Chicago,” Kenseth said. “But we’ve ran great. I couldn’t have expected to run any better than we’ve had. We’ve had top-five cars every week — and for New Hampshire (sixth) that’s quite a feat because I suck there.
“So, from a performance standpoint, it’s gone really good. Obviously, you’re not satisfied unless you’re winning every race, but I think we’ve performed well.”
Still, as competitive as the Chase field is this season, it’s taken a lot to stay in the hunt. Will one of the Chase contenders come close to supplanting five-time champion Jimmie Johnson? Kenseth came close to surprising Five Time — at least off the track. At Richmond International Raceway, when the Chase field was decided, Kenseth had trouble finding a seat on the postrace stage, so he sat on Johnson’s lap.
Just another aspect of Kenseth's mystique.
“I don’t think I’m different on Twitter than I am in person,” Kenseth said. “It just depends on when you ask the question. If you’re doing media availability an hour before practice when I’m thinking about the race car, you’re going to get racing answers.
“After Richmond, I don’t think I was any different in the media center than I would have been on Twitter or I would have been in front of my buddies. I wasn’t thinking about being in the race car. It depends on the mood you’re in or what you’re focused on.”
This weekend, Kenseth kept up the charge at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he’ll start second on Saturday night. Kenseth’s first career Cup win came on the 1.5-miler in the Coca-Cola 600 in his rookie year, but he hasn’t won here since.
However, his past five starts at Charlotte have produced an average finish of 8.4.
With the new points system, Kenseth’s not sure what it will take to win the championship this year, “but I bet if we could finish second every week from here on out, I don’t think anyone would beat that.”
“I don’t think you have to win a race in the Chase to win a championship,” Kenseth said. “But it sure pays a lot of points. Yes, you could run second every week, but I don’t think that’s realistic.”