He couldn't get enough of the rainy weather, so Matt Kenseth came to San Francisco — or maybe he just brought the wet stuff with him from Daytona.
Four days after winning his second Daytona 500 — five days after it was originally scheduled to be run — Kenseth arrived in town as part of his victory tour and to help promote the Save Mart 350 at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway on June 24.
"The weather will be better in June, won't it?" Kenseth asked Infineon Raceway President and General Manager Steve Page while riding a motorized cable car through the fog and rain on the Golden Gate Bridge. The tour started at Vista Point on the north side of the bridge and a California Highway Patrol escort led the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square.
The sun finally came out Thursday just as Kenseth was ready to head for the airport to catch a flight to Phoenix for this weekend's race — just as he predicted. Practice for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 is scheduled to start Friday.
The weather was hardly perfect, but the fans who drove from as far away as Sacramento didn't seem to mind, especially after Kenseth paused to sign autographs and pose for photos.
More than 150 fans came out despite rainy conditions to celebrate with Kenseth, including a select group who received VIP access to the fan rally after purchasing the all-new Total Access package for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. This new package includes a Sunday reserved seat in the Turn 2 Earnhardt Terrace and a Pre-Race Pit & Track Pass for just $145.
“This is an incredibly memorable day, and I feel so blessed to share this day with Matt,” said Roseville’s Katie Richwalski, who attended the event with her husband, Jerry. “We’re long-time fans of his, and this was such an incredible experience.”
Jerry was a fashion hit with his Kenseth No. 17 jacket. Jerry was one of four lucky fans chosen to ride on the cable car with Kenseth.
Kenseth even cracked some crab for hungry fans at Fisherman's Grotto No. 9, celebrating its 75th anniversary. He seemed comfortable around the crabs, but then again Kenseth has some experience with the crustaceans. Officials at Infineon Raceway took him on the same tour two years ago after he won his first Daytona 500 champion's ring.
Thursday's tour continued with a stop at Ghirardelli's Ice Cream Shop, where Kenseth built a custom treat — a Sundae, Sundae, Sundae, complete with marshmallow sauce, whipped cream and nuts.
Kenseth's victory in Monday's NASCAR Sprint Cup season opener put him in a class with Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott and Dale Jarrett as the only drivers to win the series championship and at least two Daytona 500 titles.
"Winning the Daytona 500 is a great honor," Kenseth told a packed room at Ghirardelli Square. "I remember the feeling of walking down pit row the first time and being in a race racing against Dale Earnhardt, Rusty (Wallace) and Dale Jarrett and all them guys we watched on TV. That was an awesome moment, and then to be able to win it finally in 2009 was real big for us and to win it this year is unbelievable."
And it was an unbelievable race: Delayed more than 24 hours by rain; A multi-car crash on the first lap; An "inferno" that stopped the race after Juan Pablo Montoya's car spun out of control into a service vehicle that was using a jet engine to dry the track.
Kenseth spent a lot of the downtime looking for a snack or checking his Twitter page. When the race finally got going again and with just five laps left, he quickly took the lead and held off Dale Earnhardt Jr and Greg Biffle for the checkered flag.
"You don't get many chances to win these races and when you get these chances you don't want to mess them up," Kenseth said.
So, will Kenseth finally win on the 2.52-mile road course in Sonoma? Even he can't say for sure.
"I look forward to this race (in Sonoma). It hasn't been my strongest race track by any means. It's probably been one of my weakest and in a way it always makes me look forward to the challenge," he confessed. "It's always one I have to work really hard at. We don't always get the results, but we certainly put in the effort."