For the first time in 18 months, Matt Kenseth will be in the NASCAR Cup Series field this weekend, and he’s as excited as he’s ever been to go racing.
Kenseth was hired last month by Chip Ganassi Racing to replace Kyle Larson, who was fired in April for using a racial slur caught on a Twitch Livestream. The 2003 Cup Series champion, Kenseth will pilot the No. 42 Chevrolet beginning at Darlington, his first race since the 2018 season finale.
“I’m looking forward to having another chance,” Kenseth said on the Dale Jr. Download podcast. “I’m really excited about it.
“It’s hard to tell if I’m excited or not excited at times, people have told me. Hard guy to read, I’ve been told. I can’t believe that. This is as excited as I’ve been to go racing in as long as I can remember, to be honest with you. I’m looking forward to getting back to the track.”
In 2018, Kenseth ran a part-time schedule with Roush Fenway Racing. It was a different role for Kenseth, whose career up to that point was focused on winning; but he was called upon to help Roush better its overall performance. He called it a “good experience” and said he was glad to help Jack Roush out, but it wasn’t something Kenseth wanted to do full-time.
Before taking that on, Kenseth had stepped away from the sport after losing his spot at Joe Gibbs Racing. The Wisconsin native admitted there had been offers and opportunities for another ride, but he never saw one that felt like a good fit.
“I actually never used the R-word like everybody has seen,” said Kenseth of retiring. “I don’t really read much what people say, but people would be like, ‘Oh, he’s coming out of retirement for the second time.’ Well, I never went into retirement. I wasn’t currently racing, but I never really retired.”
The opportunity to drive for Ganassi came out of nowhere. Kenseth, who had been spending time with his family over the last year, was contacted by Ganassi’s NASCAR managing director Max Jones. Kenseth said it didn’t take long to put everything together after he’d taken time to think about it.
“Just seemed like the right deal at the right time for me,” said Kenseth. “It’s a competitive car. I think they (have) a great team. It’s an interesting situation, already being in the middle of May before you start racing. It just felt like the right thing at the right time.”
“I hope to be competitive. It’s going to be a steep learning curve. The first, it sounds like, six races, there is not going to be any practice. And never driving for this team… different spotter, crew chief, equipment, cars, steering, fit – all the things that go into that to make you feel confident and make you feel comfortable, and help you relay information. It’s going to be pretty interesting. I’m already a little anxious about that first lap at Darlington. But really, my goals aren’t any different than what they used to be.”
A 39-time winner in the Cup Series, Kenseth will start his tenure with Ganassi with zero points. He is eligible for the playoffs should he win a race and be inside the top 30 in points at the end of the regular season.
“Usually, when you make a driver change or a crew chief change or all that, it’s almost always performance-related,” said Kenseth. “So to have an opportunity in a car that’s currently running well… and really they just needed a driver; I just thought it was a good opportunity for me to take another stab at it, and see if I can perform well.”