DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM)– You expect him to be grumpy, even in the wake of winning $1.5 million.
You expect him to be sleepy, having won the Daytona 500 in Florida less than 17 hours earlier.
You expect him to be … somebody other than Matt Kenseth.
“No, this is great!” Kenseth says Tuesday afternoon at Dallas’ Fan Sports Lounge in his first radio interview since winning NASCAR’s Super Bowl. “Maybe I’m delusional because I’ve had only a couple hours of sleep, but I’m really enjoying this.”
Kenseth is polite. Cordial. Even personable. Sitting in the glass-enclosed studios of 105.3 The Fan, he even cracks wise.
“Don’t be nervous,” he deadpans to me as tens of cameras point and click toward him, “but I think we’re being watched.”
That the characteristically mundane Kenseth’s personality is blooming is fitting. Because the race he just won was anything but boring and stagnant.
The 2012 Daytona 500 will be remembered for everything, except the racing. Rain. More Rain. Two delays. Monday night. Fire. Big fire. Soap suds. Push brooms. Garden spreaders. Tweeting. Leaf blowers. Oh yeah, and Kenseth, who became only the 9th driver to win multiple Daytonas.
“Winning the first one was a dream come true,” says Kenseth. “This one, it’s beyond description.”
So was the weekend, which climaxed with Kenseth’s No. 17 Best Buy Ford getting the jump of green-white-checkered re-start and outracing Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to the finish line around midnight Monday. It was a wacky race that claimed Jimmie Johnson and essentially Danica Patrick on the second lap and saw Jeff Gordon sidelined by engine troubles by the halfway point. Honestly, the only bland part of the whole event was the green-flag racing, with no car seemingly distinctly faster or better than any other, resulting in the Daytona 500 being decided not on pedal-to-the-medal and daring driving or dramatic passes, but more so via track positioning, pit stops, wrecks and re-starts off wrecks.
While Kenseth, Biffle and Denny Hamlin appeared to have the night’s best cars, their jockeying for checkered paled to the drama that unfolded with 40 laps remaining. While accelerating out of the pits to catch the pack during a yellow, Juan Pablo Montoya’s car, um, well, it broke. Transmission totally locked up, sending his car on an abrupt right turn and into a truck equipped with a jet-engine blow dryer up near the wall. The collision sent a spectacular fireball into the sky for a Daytona image we’ll see for years to come.
Amazingly – thankfully – Montoya and the truck’s driver walked away from the accident. But the clean-up took an assortment of makeshift tools, and two hours. Drivers, forced to park on the backstretch away from the Turn 3 incident, got out of their cars. Chatted. Hung out. Walked around. And Brad Keselowski Tweeted, earning 140,000 followers in 30 minutes of sending out thoughts and pictures of the bizarre events.
“The first 30 minutes were okay,” says Kenseth. “It was good to get out of the car and just talk with the guys. But then you get bored. You get hungry. We all got antsy.”
With fears that the asphalt track would literally melt under the searing heat of jet fuel, thoughts of a foot race to determine the winner arose. But quickly faded.
“Hey,” Kenseth says, “I’d have been all for that.”
Fox – with its cameras tucked into every car and crack of the track – was the big winner, earning the second-most viewers in Daytona history. Over 36.5 million Americans watched the race, that lasted almost six hours. It was the biggest audience for a Fox Monday night since Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.
(Fox’s creative cameras makes you wonder how long until we get a camera mounted on Tony Romo’s helmet, LeBron James’ headband or Mike Napoli’s mask?)
“I feel bad for the fans at the track, because they waited and waited and waited,” says Kenseth. “But for the result? We’ll remember that one for a long time.”
And with that, Kenseth headed across the street to a meet-and-greet at American Airlines Center. He received an autographed basketball from Dallas Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle.
“I’m a Packers’ fan,” Kenseth joked. “But I’ll probably keep that to myself tonight.”
You expected less from him.
But from Matt Kenseth and NASCAR, we’re constantly and pleasantly surprised.
(© Copyright 2012 KRLD FM / 105.3 The Fan, CBS Local. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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