Darlington Raceway. A 1.366-mile oddball of a circuit not really made for these times, Darlington was where NASCAR veteran Matt Kenseth made his comeback from retirement last month as a member of Chip Ganassi’s team. Paired with Kurt Busch, the pairing raised a few eyebrows in the Cup garages.
“It was exciting to get the opportunity to get in that car, for sure, and to work with all of the guys over there,” says Kenseth. “It wasn’t what I expected to come up at that time, but it certainly was a great opportunity with great equipment, and it’s been good to be over there and to be a part of it.”
Sought out by Ganassi when the team unexpectedly found itself needing to replace Kyle Larson, Kenseth, who was vacationing with his family at the time, took a long, hard look at it all.
“I don’t know… The last year has been really fun,” he says. “I had a great summer with the family, and we did a lot of vacationing and had a lot of fun with the kids and everything. Certainly, this unique Chip Ganassi opportunity was presented to me as it was a new time, and a new schedule, and a new opportunity to get back in the car and to be at the racetrack. And it was a great opportunity, especially since it was a good car with a great organization like that, I just felt like it was an opportunity that I shouldn’t let pass by.
“It’s nerve-wracking to get in a different car with no practice and with a different team and all that stuff, so I was a little bit nervous to get going. But certainly I just ran a couple laps and everything came back to me, and I felt good.
“It’s been fun to go to the track. It’s been different. I haven’t got to spend a lot of time with Chip or many of the other guys, just because of the COVID and all the restrictions and all of that. All of that has definitely made it different, and presented some different challenges, so we’re trying to work through all of that the best we can and we’re all trying to get back to normal.”
And has been Kenseth been in touch with Busch away from the track?
“Yeah, I’ve talked to Kurt a lot, and I’ve always known Kurt pretty well and have always enjoyed working with him, and hanging out with him and all of that,” Kenseth says. “Kurt is a great teammate and he works really hard at it, and I’ve been enjoying being able to work with him for kind of our second go-around here. It’s been great to work with him again.”
The next stop on the abbreviated NASCAR Cup Series tour comes this Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I really do like Atlanta,” says Kenseth of the fabled Georgian oval. “I’m looking forward to getting back there. It’s a great track for us, as well. I look forward to getting back there. It’s always great to get back to the track and to give another shot at it.
“And yeah, I’m certainly thankful to have the opportunity to race with Chip. And working with Kurt, he has a lot of experience and he’s really good at what he does, and that certainly is a good advantage. Having a good teammate definitely makes your job a lot easier. I try to absorb as much as I can from him, and try to work together with him as much as we can. I feel like all of this can be an advantage.”
Does Kenseth have to prove anything to anyone involved in NASCAR? Nothing really. The man is only one of six drivers in NASCAR history to have claimed a Cup championship (2003), Rookie of the Year, and a Daytona 500 victory.
“Really, I always kind of feel like there is more out there, you know?” says Kenseth. “Sort of like, ‘I could have done better or I should have done better.’ I’m excited to get back. There is opportunity, and there isn’t necessarily anything I have to prove to anybody, but I always feel like I have something to prove to myself. This is a great opportunity at a time where I haven’t been around in a while, so it’s just important for me to get back and to be performing at a top level. The joy of being in the car, or even looking forward to the next week’s race, has been exciting.”