Matt Kenseth accomplished the improbable Sunday in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing driving the No. 42 Chevrolet to a 10th place finish at Darlington Raceway in The Real Heroes 400.
It was his first race back since he retired from the NASCAR Cup Series after the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2018, finishing off a lackluster season. But the time away was only one of the obstacles he faced. He had to acclimate to a new team with an unfamiliar crew chief and spotter. It was also his first race in a Chevrolet Camaro and his first experience with the high downforce, low horsepower package currently used in the Cup Series. And to make things more interesting, there was no practice or qualifying before the race.
The 2003 Cup Series Champion seemed undaunted by the challenges he faced although he did admit to being somewhat apprehensive at the beginning of the race.
“I would say to get prepared and get the mental mindset and everything ready to start the race was very difficult,” he said. “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. But really once we got into that second restart and ran three or four laps, I really felt pretty comfortable.”
With 39 wins to his credit, the 2003 Cup Series champion is known for his consistency and his dogged determination. And Kenseth’s competitors realize that it is never a good idea to underestimate him.
Race winner, Kevin Harvick, was not surprised by Kenseth’s top-10 result.
“Here’s the thing about Matt Kenseth, he should have never quit,” Harvick said. “Matt Kenseth was winning races when he retired. Matt Kenseth is going to be a huge part of that race team and making Chip Ganassi Racing better. He’s going to be great for the sponsors.”
As Kenseth looks forward his focus is on continuing to be competitive.
“Certainly, it feels good to be back,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun the last two or three weeks working with Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and my new team, and getting back on the race track and being competitive. You just don’t know, I wasn’t real competitive the last season that I raced and, certainly, the year before that really didn’t go the way I thought it should go or wanted it to go necessarily. It feels good to be back, to be wanted, to be part of that team and to get a good start. It’s only one race; I have a lot of racing to do and I realize I have a lot of improving to do. But it has been fun so far, for sure.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to be back racing and part of a team where he feels appreciated. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll get a shot at redemption.
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