HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – One could say that Matt Kenseth’s last outing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon was nothing short of magical.
That was the race where Kenseth finally broke through and found his way to victory lane at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after 14 years and 28 tries. Kenseth started ninth and led a race-high 106 laps en route to his first Sprint Cup win at “The Magic Mile.” For Kenseth, the victory was especially sweet because it came at a track that he long considered to be one of his weakest.
This weekend, the Wisconsin native returns to the New England track where he is the most recent winner with more confidence and a desire to get back to his winning ways, beginning with his turn in the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Saturday’s Sta-Green 200 Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire will be Kenseth’s ninth Nationwide Series start at the 1.058-mile oval, but it will be his first with Interstate Batteries, JGR’s founding partner. Interstate Batteries has adorned the hood of JGR cars for the past 22 seasons, and Kenseth hopes he still has the same magic touch that he had last September. And he hopes he can add his name to the list of drivers who have taken the Texas-based company to victory lane.
In eight Nationwide Series starts at Loudon, Kenseth has one win in 2004, three top-three finishes and six top-10s. Last season, in his only JGR start at New Hampshire, Kenseth finished ninth. His average starting position is 16.6 and his average finish is 11.1. Aside from a 40th-place finish in his first-ever start at Loudon – the result of a midrace accident – Kenseth has finished no worse than 16th.
So far this season, Kenseth and the No. 20 team have four top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 10 Nationwide Series starts.
This weekend, Kenseth hopes that his first time in the famed bright green Interstate Batteries colors will be a memorable one and just as magical as his last trip to “The Magic Mile.”
Matt Kenseth, Driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Can you learn something running the Nationwide Series car that’s applicable to the Sprint Cup Series car, and vice versa?
“You always hope so, but the answer is usually no. There’s nothing that really transfers over and, if there is, it’s very little. Maybe some tire pressure or tire wear stuff because you are on the same tire the whole weekend. Sometimes track-specific stuff like grooves, where it’s rubbered in, etc., but as far as setup stuff it never really transfers. Hopefully we can pick up something with our run in the Interstate Batteries Toyota that can help us in Sunday’s race.”
How different is the feel of a NASCAR Nationwide Series car compared to a NASCAR Sprint Cup car? How much do you have to adjust your driving style?
“It’s totally different. I think how much you adjust your driving style really depends on the racetrack. Somewhere like New Hampshire, you probably don’t have to adjust your style near as much as somewhere like Michigan, where you can run your Nationwide car basically wide open around there. They’re a lot different. I think at the smaller, shorter tracks, you probably learn more or that’s where it’s most similar to the Cup car.”
You won in your most recent trip to New Hampshire. Other than momentum, does that give you anything when you go back there this weekend, be it for the Nationwide car or Cup car?
“It probably gives you a little bit more confidence because I feel like that’s been probably one of my worst tracks in the past. We performed pretty well there last year in both races, so I think it probably gives you a little more confidence heading into both races this weekend.”
How hard is it to jump in the Nationwide car when you are running a limited schedule? Is it easy for you, harder for the crew chief?
“It’s not really that big of deal. It’s probably harder for (crew chief) Kevin (Kidd) and the crew than it is for me. They’ve had a lot of different drivers in the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota this year besides me. To work with different drivers, to make the interior fit and the different things they like, just to communicate with different drivers all the time probably makes it more challenging. I’m running most of the races in the 20 car, so it’s probably a little bit easier. I think it’s definitely harder for the team when they have different drivers jumping in and out.”
New England seems to be quite a racing hotbed. Talk about going to New England and the fervency of the fans up there?
“There’s a ton of fans up there. That place always has really big crowds ever since the first time I went up there and raced. It’s always fun to go to tracks where you have a lot of fan support and a lot of excitement. I know Interstate Batteries has a lot of dealers and distributors up in that part of the country, and I hope we can give them something to cheer about on Saturday. ”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine