Kurt Busch finished third at Darlington Raceway, but, looking at what he called the old-school scoring pylon in the infield, he noticed something else.
“There’s old Matt Kenseth, No. 42, finishing 10th,” said Busch. “That’s what he will do every day, all racetracks. I mean, that’s Matt. That’s what he does.”
Busch’s new teammate had a solid outing in his first race with Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2003 Cup Series champion is now the full-time driver of the car Kyle Larson used to drive, and Sunday was Kenseth’s first race in the series since the 2018 finale.
In typical Kenseth fashion, it was not a flashy day. He started 12th and averaged a top-15 spot all afternoon. But then, as the race wound down, Kenseth started inching his way up the leaderboard, running as high as ninth nearing the finish.
“I was definitely anxious when they were getting ready to throw the green, firing off there in the first corner, and everything being new and different with having an extended period of time off,” Kenseth said Monday. “But really, once we got into that second restart and ran three or four laps, I really felt pretty comfortable.
“There are a lot of things when you’re out for a while that you just aren’t as sharp on as when you left; just all the little detail stuff like getting in your pit box clean, pit road stuff — just a lot of different little stuff. But I really felt pretty comfortable in the car.
“They did a great job of getting everything ready,” Kenseth continued. “I felt really good physically. There were really no issues there; just trying to get rolling again.”
Darlington was the first time Kenseth had driven the new aero package, which, for Sunday’s race, was the 550-horsepower engine. Kenseth said the package made the cars easier to drive than they were when he was last in them.
“When you have less power and more drag, everything is happening just a little bit slower, and that helps with the adjustments as well,” said Kenseth.
With one race under his belt, Kenseth has earned 27 points and is 34th in the standings. Granted a playoff waiver, Kenseth needs to win a race and sit inside the top 30 in points to be among those competing for the championship when the post-season starts.
“We’re only one race in and have a lot of work to do and racing to do to have a shot at making the playoffs,” said Kenseth. “Obviously, a win would get you there; but I don’t know about any of that. Expectations are a tricky thing. I expect to be competitive … You never know how you’re going to run week to week.
“It was super, super random, and I never usually make predictions, but my kids were talking to me last week, and Kaylin was kind of grilling me on where I thought we were going to finish and how we were going to run. I don’t know why, but I just had 12th in my head. She had two other people last week when they were talking about, everybody had 12th. I would have been pretty happy being 12th my first day, so finishing 10th, I thought was really good.
“Top 10s are not easy to come by, so to get one on our first day — and for Kurt to go out there and run third — I thought that was a big success for the whole (Ganassi) organization.”