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Very busy week for Daytona 500 winner

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Busy week for Matt Kenseth
In the world of NASCAR racing there are two official titles that every driver wants to have attached to their names and resumes: NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and Daytona 500 Champion. Matt Kenseth has now earned the right to attach both titles to his name. Following that moment of glory in a rain soaked victory lane, complete with the Harley Earl trophy raised high above his head, the new Daytona 500 champion next had to focus on the media tour that follows winning this race.

The itinerary of this tour is so packed that Kenseth hasn't had time to celebrate with family and friends in his home town of Cambridge-Wisconsin and it will be at least a week before he can spend some quiet time at home.

But before Kenseth could even begin the whirlwind Daytona 500 Champions Tour he had to take care of a rather unique situation. He didn't have enough clothes with him to be gone for a week and it appears that situation was based on a rather unique superstition. Commenting on the clothes issue Kenseth said "I didn't pack any extra clothes on purpose. A number of years ago I packed the clothes and brought them with me just in case I won the race and had to leave for the media tour. It turned out to be one our worst 500's ever. I stopped packing extra clothes ever since." Following the victory lane celebration and media interviews, Kenseth spent Sunday night on a plane bound for  his home away from home, Mooresville-North Carolina, to pack extra suitcases. Next he had to fly right back to Daytona Beach where he was scheduled to begin his tour early Monday morning.

On Monday the day began with the annual ConAgra Champion's breakfast followed by the ceremonial installation of the winning car into the Daytona 500 Experience-the official attraction of NASCAR where it will be displayed for a full year. This tradition is somewhat double edged sword. On the upside it's an extreme honor for the team to participate in this ceremony. They get to sign their names on a winning Daytona 500 car that will be displayed to the massive amount of fans that visits the Daytona 500 Experience throughout the year. There's also some great looking bling bling in the form of the champion's ring, some eye-popping championship leather jackets not to mention the $1.5 million paycheck.  But on the downside of this is the fact that a car strong enough to win the Daytona 500 will not be available to be used again until February 14th 2010. That thought will likely enter the Kenseth's mind next April  when the team starts to prepare for the next restrictor plate race in Talladega.

Monday afternoon found Kenseth on an airplane bound for New York City for scheduled appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman" and "Live With Regis and Kelley." Normally when you watch Kenseth during a television interview you get the sense that's he's not too comfortable with the process. Perhaps being a Daytona 500 champion made that process easier because he did an outstanding job on both of these television programs.

In a move that shouldn't surprise anyone David Letterman went straight to the hot topic that every NASCAR fan is talking about this week. With that famous toothy grin, Letterman asked "so what's up with that Dale Jr thing?" Without batting an eyelash Kenseth smiled and said "I actually didn't see it and you would be  crazy to get me to say something bad about Dale Jr. Do you know how many fans he has?" The interview also featured a video clip of that now famous wreck. When asked to narrate the clip Kenseth said "here's the part where I closed my eyes and now here's the part where I opened them again."

During the course of the Letterman appearance we learned that there is apparently another member of the famous  Kenseth racing family on the way. That would Matt's 15 year old son Ross who is working his way through the Late Model racing ranks at tracks in Wisconsin. Kenseth pointed out that his dad promotes a lot of special races in that area and has been talking to him about appearing at one of these events to race against his son. With a smile on his face, Kenseth said "I probably need to do that before the kid learns too much more."

Tuesday morning found the Daytona 500 champion still in New York and at the ABC studios for his appearance on "Live With Regis and Kelly." In a very cute moment Regis Philbin asked about the race ending rainout while pointing that the NFL finishes their games no matter what the weather is. "Why can't you guys race in the rain?" Philbin asked adding "are you a bunch of wimps or what?" Kenseth quickly pointed that over the years he has lost a lot of races due to weather and fuel mileage and he had no problem whatsoever winning a rain shortened Daytona 500.

Tuesday afternoon had Kenseth appearing, via satellite, on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" program. The inevitable question of the Brian Vickers/Dale Earnhardt Jr wreck naturally came up. With a smile on his face, Kenseth said "I don't have a dog in that fight."

By Wednesday morning Kenseth was in San Francisco during live radio interview as well as greeting his fans during a special victory tour. Wednesday evening had him on an airplane heading south to Los Angeles for a Thursday morning appearance at the "Auto Club Speedway Day In Los Angeles" hosted by speedway President Gillian Zucker that also includes a special meet and greet with the fans and the media.

The week long process ends Thursday evening when Kenseth can finally relax, in a Fontana-California area hotel room, and begin the process of shifting his full attention to Sunday's Auto Club 500. You can bet that he's looking forward to returning to the Auto Club Speedway this weekend because he's enjoyed some very good runs at the track. That includes two wins, six top five finishes, ten top ten finishes, zero DNF's along with a healthy 9.6 average finish ratio.

He also will be arriving at the Auto Club Speedway with the ultra strong momentum that comes with being the new Daytona 500 champion. 

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