When NASCAR racing returns to the asphalt, so will former Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth. In a surprise move on Monday, team owner Chip Ganassi revealed he has chosen Matt Kenseth to drive the No. 42 CGR Chevrolet in NASCAR’s premier division. Kenseth, 48, will replace Kyle Larson, who was fired on April 14 after using a racial slur during an iRacing event at the virtual Monza F1 circuit.
“I have always said that when we have to fill a driver spot, that I owe it to our team, our partners and our
fans to put the best available driver in the car,” Ganassi said in a statement announcing the hiring of the
2003 champion. “We are doing exactly that with Matt.
“Throughout my time in NASCAR, I have always admired the way Matt Kenseth raced. 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.”
Kenseth lost his ride with Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2017 season but returned to the track for 15 events with Roush Fenway Racing to share duties with struggling Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 Ford. Kenseth secured the last of his 39 career victories in the penultimate race of 2017 when he took the checkered flag 1.207 seconds ahead of runner-up Chase Elliott at Phoenix.
At CGR, Kenseth will be reunited with 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch. The drivers were teammates at Roush Fenway for five years (2001-2005).
“This was an unexpected opportunity for sure,” Kenseth said. “I can’t say racing was even on my radar two weeks ago. After spending some time thinking about it and all the unique circumstances surrounding all of us right now, it just seemed the timing and the opportunity was perfect to come back.
“I know I have a lot of work ahead of me to get up to speed in a relatively short period of time, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m excited to work with Kurt again and to meet all my new CGR team members, and I’m really looking forward to getting back in a Chevrolet. In 1988, I started my career in a Camaro, and I can’t wait to finally race a Chevy in the Cup Series. I also need to thank Chip and all his partners for this opportunity. Hopefully we will be on the track soon.”
Kenseth has never driven a Chevrolet at NASCAR’s highest level, but he made his mark in the Xfinity Series driving Chevys for fellow Wisconsinite Robbie Reiser. Kenseth picked up 12 wins in Reiser’s cars, the last coming in 2001.
Kenseth has won the Daytona 500 twice and also claimed victories in the Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and All-Star Race.
He is widely credited with providing the impetus for the NASCAR Playoffs, instituted in 2004 immediately after a championship season bereft of drama.
Kenseth won the 2003 title with a single victory and exited the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway because of an engine failure after 28 of 267 laps.
In the Playoff era, Kenseth qualified for the postseason on 13 of 14 possible occasions through 2017 and twice finished second in the final standings (2006 for Roush Fenway and 2013 for Joe Gibbs Racing). Kenseth’s eligibility for the NASCAR Hall of Fame likely will be delayed if he runs the rest of the season in the No. 42 car, as planned.
Had he not opted to come out of retirement, Kenseth almost certainly would have been a Hall of Fame selection in his first year of eligibility, which would have been for the class of 2022.
Despite missing the first four events of the season, Kenseth will be eligible to compete for the Cup Series championship, thanks to a waiver from NASCAR announced on Tuesday. According to multiple sources, the season is likely to resume May 17 at Darlington Raceway, pending approvals from local health authorities.
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Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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