NASCAR on NBC podcast

Matt Kenseth: ‘That’s the most competitive we’ve been at an intermediate track all season’

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FORT WORTH, Texas – A day after announcing he plans to step away from the Cup Series after the 2017 season, Matt Kenseth showed again Sunday why he isn’t ready to do so.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 29 laps and finished fourth in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, rebounding from starting 35th after being unable to post a qualifying lap because of Friday inspection failures.

It was the most laps led by Kenseth since the Sept. 9 race at Richmond International Raceway and his first top five since a third in the Sept. 24 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I felt like that’s the most competitive we’ve been at an intermediate track all season,” Kenseth said after his first top five at Texas in four years. “If we would have had our best setup at the end, we could have had a shot at winning the thing. It certainly was encouraging we ran better.”

During a taping of the NASCAR on NBC podcast Saturday, Kenseth revealed he would be taking an indefinite hiatus from NASCAR’s premier series because he didn’t have any current offers to drive a first-class ride.

He also lamented his team’s struggles in 2017, which he called “the most disappointing season I’ve ever had in my career for having equipment that is capable of winning races and championships … I got to take a lot of the blame because I’m the guy driving the race car, but it’s been so self-inflicted. We’ve made so many mistakes as a team.”

Sunday was mostly flawless until the end, though. Kenseth drove through the field early in the race on new tires (with the competition that made qualifying runs on tires that were scuffed Friday).

He gained 28 spots in 85 laps to finish seventh in the first stage, and crew chief Jason Ratcliff made a shrewd strategy call — pitting the No. 20 Toyota from the lead with 20 laps left in the second stage and taking the lead when the rest of the field stopped at the caution ending the stage.

Kenseth spent the next three restarts battling for the lead with runner-up Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 107 laps. He won one of those battles by seizing the lead from Truex on the inside, which is impressive given that Truex’s No. 78 has been the strongest car on 1.5-mile tracks this year.

“I thought we did everything right,” Kenseth said. “I thought we had good pit stops.”

Everything was good until after the final stop. Kenseth restarted fifth but couldn’t gain any ground.

“We just got really tight on that last set of tires,” he said. “I don’t know why, if it was just the track cooled down, and we didn’t realize it would change on us. We just got really tight on that last set, and I was just kind of stuck.”

But there still was something positive to take into Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway — possibly the last two races of Kenseth’s Cup career and certainly his last at Joe Gibbs Racing

“That was our worst run of the day, and it was still pretty competitive,” Kenseth said. “So it was nice to be competitive.”

Matt Kenseth plans to step away from Cup in 2018: ‘It’s probably time to go do something different’

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FORT WORTH, Texas – After 18 consecutive seasons in Cup, Matt Kenseth said he is taking a break from NASCAR’s premier series after 2017.

In his first expansive comments about the future since the announcement four months ago that he was losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth said Saturday during the taping of a NASCAR on NBC podcast episode (which will be posted Sunday) that he will put a two-decade career on hiatus, possibly for good.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off,” the 2003 series champion said. “I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.

“Really most of my life, everything has been very obvious to me. Moving to Joe Gibbs, everybody was like, ‘Oh that must have been the hardest decision. Actually, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Both ends, everything lined up. It lined up to not stay where I was for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it lined up to go over there for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was just like it was really easy. This one, I’ve been fighting it as long as I can, because I’m like, ‘Man, once you’re done doing this, not many of us get to do this, especially at the top level.’ I think I fought it for a long time.

“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate, because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”

Along with Kurt Busch, who said Friday that he remains in negotiations to return with Stewart-Haas Racing next season, Kenseth has been among the top free agents for next year, but his name wasn’t called despite some championship-caliber rides being open.

Stewart-Haas Racing is expected Wednesday to name Aric Almirola to replace Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Ford and seems to be nearing a new deal with Busch. Furniture Row Racing is shelving the No. 77 Toyota of Erik Jones (who is taking Kenseth’s ride at JGR).

Hendrick Motorsports named William Byron, 19, to replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet and selected Alex Bowman, 24, as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Chevy.

“Probably my biggest clue is when Rick put William in the 5 car, and I didn’t get that opportunity,” Kenseth, 45, said. “That was one I thought maybe I would get and hopefully go over there and get that car running better. I felt like I could really do that and maybe mentor some of the young drivers coming along, and that didn’t work out, either.

“Probably after that happened, that should have been the cold water in my face that, ‘All right, you need to accept it and do the best you can this year and figure out what you’re going to do next year and move on.’ ”

In the July announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to name Bowman in the No. 88, Hendrick deflected when asked if he had considered putting Kenseth in the car.

Did Kenseth talk with Hendrick about joining his team?

“You know, I’ve talked to him a lot,” Kenseth said. “Probably talked to him 10 times a year, probably more than that. I’ve always got along with him pretty well.

“As far as any conversation with owners or anything, I probably would rather keep that to myself because the more I think about that, it’s not really fair to my peers or the owners, really, because all the cars have drivers in them, so it’s probably easier just to keep them to myself.”

With contemporaries such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving NASCAR with graceful retirement transitions, Kenseth said not getting the same opportunity to exit on his own terms “irritates me a little bit.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” he said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Kenseth, who has 38 career victories and two Daytona 500 wins, believes he still can win but said he was discriminating in his job search.

“I think I can drive next year if I really wanted to go drive,” the Cambridge, Wisconsin, native said. “But do I just want to drive, or do I want to try to win races and championships?

“I think if any of that stuff was really meant to be, and someone really wanted you to be part of the organization, they would have figured out how to make it happen by now, certainly.”

Unless a top-flight ride somehow were to materialize, Kenseth said he doesn’t anticipate being at the 2018 Daytona 500 or any other race next season.

“I really don’t,” he said. “You never say never. If something came up that felt right, or Coach (Joe Gibbs) had an opportunity come up because of a driver or something —  a good car I felt I could contribute and go win with and was a top team — I probably would seriously entertain that, but other than that, I don’t foresee that.”

If this is the end of the line in Cup for Kenseth, a lot is waiting for him at home.

His wife, Katie, is expecting their fourth child next month. They have three daughters between the ages of 3 and 8, and Kenseth said he was looking forward to spending time “with my kids and be able to do some normal family things.

“I think it’ll be busier staying at home than going to the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “Right now it’s busy at home. It’s a fun busy, a great busy. I think it keeps you young. As much as I fought it and as much as I tried to deny it’s not time, it probably really is.

“Even though I feel I can still get it done on the racetrack, I just think it’s probably time, and I need to accept that and move on.”

Kenseth is in the midst of a 40-race winless streak dating to July 2016 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he has two poles this season and made the 2017 playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

He was eliminated from championship eligibility when his No. 20 Toyota was parked after his team sent too many men over the wall to repair it in the Oct. 22 race at Kansas Speedway.

“The racing end, it’s been a very frustrating and disappointing season from every level,” he said. “Probably the most disappointing season I’ve ever had in my career, to be honest with you. We’ve ran worse before. But this year, for having equipment out of that shop that is capable of winning races and championships, it’s just been a disappointing season to say the least. The hits just keep on coming, even with only three weeks left.”

The latest happened Friday when he consistently ran among the top five speeds in practice but wasn’t able to qualify because his car failed technical inspection too many times.

“I’ve had some really good periods and some bad periods,” Kenseth said. “I’d say this is my worst. I got to take a lot of the blame because I’m the guy driving the race car, but it’s been so self-inflicted. We’ve made so many mistakes as a team.

“We’ve had good days and messed it up with mistakes and have had bad days where we’ve ran terrible and had great pit stops and strategy and don’t make mistakes on pit road or the racetrack. It’s just been something all the time. We haven’t really operated at a high level. It’s been very disappointing.

“In hindsight looking back there’s probably things I could have helped more with or maybe been more of the squeaky wheel and tried to get things rolling better in the right direction and didn’t. I feel like (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) has done a good job of leading the team and figuring out what we need and how to get things turned around. Again, not putting it on him; it’s all of us. We just haven’t been able to turn it around and get the whole group as one unit operating as a championship unit, or even a winning unit. We had a few races we had a good opportunity to win and for whatever reason couldn’t.”

Listen to the full conversation with Kenseth, which posted Sunday.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or visiting the www.ApplePodcasts.com/nascaronnbc landing page.

It also is available for subscription on Stitcher or by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 96: Clint Bowyer on improving the race fan experience

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As a high-energy Type A personality who always is seeking ways to stay occupied, Clint Bowyer occasionally spends down time at racetracks keeping tabs on fans’ down time.

During a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver explained how he likes touring the infield during race weekends to understand the fan experience.

“It’s about the experience,” Bowyer said. “It’s not about a race or practice or qualifying. It bums me out when I see people at a lull or void in our program. They just look like they don’t know what to do with themselves.”

Bowyer does think there have been some improvements made this season, starting with the reconfiguring of the fan midway with the return of the merchandise haulers at many tracks. That has helped rebuild a “carnival-type feel” to make fans feel entertained, Bowyer said. “It’s not enough in today’s day and age just to be entertained now and then. You’ve got to have something for these people every single moment, every minute they’re at the racetrack.”

He also approves of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s hosting and promotion of concerts with bands such as the Chainsmokers.

“They’ve learned how to capture that young audience,” he said. “Everyone says our demographic is getting older, getting long in the tooth. If you want to capture kids, 30-year-old guys, that’s me. It’s going to take a lot to keep me entertained for three days. You’ll have to have stuff going on, a party going on. I want to be entertained the whole time I’m there, and by the way, I’m a race fan. I want to see cars on the track.”

Bowyer owns a dirt late model race team and said the dirt racing experience also sets a good example.

“Those Late Models, they’re going to put on a great show for the fans,” he said. “There will be moments in that race that people will be talking about for weeks to come. That is something we’ve got to work on in our sport. We’ve got to create more moments that people come and talk about for weeks to come.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 95: Krista Voda and Phil Kelley on TV and tractor pulling

Red Blooded Binder Team
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NASCAR on NBC host Krista Voda and her husband, Phil Kelley, joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss their hectic road life, chasing tractor pulls and TV assignments.

Kelley, who also works as a cameraman, is the driver-owner of the Red Blooded Binder tractor pulling team, which barnstorms around the country to county fairs for events throughout the summer.

He often has help in towing his race vehicle across the scales from Voda, who travels to races – often with their 4-year-old daughter.

“So much of our existence revolves around my career, and my schedule dictates so much of what we do,” Voda said. “So I kind of think it’s the least I can do that when we can travel as a family and be there together with Emmy, that’s what I like to do.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 94: Danica Patrick on why ‘I don’t feel the weight of anything anymore’

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As she faces the most uncertain time of her NASCAR career, Danica Patrick sounds more secure in herself than ever.

During a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver explained how she is growing more “Zen” in approaching middle age.

“I just don’t feel the weight of anything anymore,” Patrick, 35, said. “I just don’t feel angry about anything. It’s just gone. There are plenty of things I look back and think, ‘That sucked, but you know what? I’m going to go on’.

“And the things that make you the happiest are free. Do I love going on a private jet? Sure. Do I love going to really fancy vacations with boutique hotels where you have your own 3,000 square feet? Do I love being able to treat people well by giving them gifts and buying them things? Yeah, of course. That’s all wonderful stuff, but nothing feels better than the joy of family, love and friends. The stupidest thing, when I watch my two dogs play, I’m so happy. I literally laugh out loud by myself.”

Patrick said he has taken to watching Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” for inspiration in interviews with spiritual people.

“Have I been screwed out of millions of dollars over the years in different ways and different places? Yep,” she said. “Have I had heartache? Yep. Have I been disappointed in myself or other people? Yep. There’s been all kinds of that, but that’s life.”

There is much happening in Patrick’s life outside of the car. Her first book (“Pretty Intense”) will be released in January, and she already has made plans for a sequel. She has opened a Napa Valley vineyard (Somnium) that recently released its first Cabernet Sauvignon. She launched a “Warrior” athleisure line that will be sponsoring her No. 10 Ford at Richmond Raceway this weekend.

But Patrick has cautioned against the perception that the forays are evidence of an exit from NASCAR.

“They are not an escape plan, they are not a backup plan, they are purely extensions of things I already do,” she said. “They really are. What I love about racing is the art of it. I love the challenge, the journey. I love the work involved between a group of people to find success. Whether it be through my communication about how the car feels, then you make changes, and it gets better.

“There’s a journey in that. I also love the execution, the mental discipline, the setting someone up. The things it takes to put a whole race together. There’s nothing better than outsmarting someone out there. Those are the things I really enjoy about racing. I’ve never made it a mystery that I’m not into cars.”

Patrick said there is no timetable for solidifying a 2018 ride.

“Just go with the flow and see what comes up and feels right,” she said. “In the spiritual laws of success, the two laws that are most important are the law of detachment and of least resistance. They’re similar.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.