Matt Kenseth Picks Up Where He Left Off with Top 10 at Darlington

Matt Kenseth, driver of the #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet, walks on to pit road prior to the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 17, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. Chris Graythen | Getty Images

For any driver, a top-10 finish can be a relief. If they waited over a year for that strong run, it can feel triumphant.

But for Matt Kenseth, it was no surprise that the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion drove his No. 42 Chevrolet to a 10th place result at Darlington Raceway in The Real Heroes 400, his first top-10 since his last Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 2018, when he replaced Trevor Bayne at Roush Fenway Racing on a part-time schedule.

“The first few laps today were kind of nerve-racking, but then it was sort of back to racing and thinking about what we needed to be better,” Kenseth said. “Everyone on the team has worked extremely hard the last couple weeks to prepare for today, and I’m proud of what we accomplished.

“I learned a lot throughout the race about the way the car handles and reacts to different situations, and it was nice to really get acclimated to the Camaro and the team in a real racing environment.”

After replacing Kyle Larson for being suddenly released during the pandemic break for dropping a racial slur during an online race, the then retired driver caught everyone by surprise when Chip Ganassi Racing announced Kenseth would take the wheel when NASCAR returned. “I Like Winners” has been the slogan for team owner Chip Ganassi, so snagging Kenseth out of retirement to drive once again aligned perfectly with his vision.

“Throughout my time in NASCAR, I have always admired the way Matt Kenseth raced,” car owner Chip Ganassi said back in April when he hired Kenseth. “He has proven to be a consistent winner, strong competitor, and respectful driver, and I’m glad we are able to add another NASCAR champion to the team for the remainder of this season.”

By joining the forces of CRG also came the reunion with former Roush Fenway teammate Kurt Busch, giving Ganassi two drivers as past champions of the sport, back-to-back in fact with Kenseth in 2003 and Busch in 2004.

“There’s old Matt Kenseth, No. 42, finishing 10th,” Busch said in a post-race Zoom press conference after finishing in third at Darlington, the track nicknamed “Too Tough To Tame”.

Kenseth’s top-10 effort came as no shock to the competition, and after receiving a waiver to pursue the 2020 Cup Championship, his strong start is a threat to all the teams. The 22-year veteran has a 49.5% top-10 finish record across his entire career of 666 starts after Sunday’s race, one of the highest across all active drivers. Fans of the Wisconsin native are excited to see him return, and even the competition is aware of his presence.

Race winner Kevin Harvick made that very clear: “Matt Kenseth was winning races when he retired… Here’s the thing about Matt Kenseth: he should have never quit.”

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