Matt Kenseth wasn’t sure he was ready to retire from NASCAR competition the first time around in 2017, when his seat was given to a young driver.
Kenseth was still winning the race when he retired as a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Cup champion. In fact, he won the penultimate race of his final season with Gibbs.
But any other job available would be a downgrade. So he left NASCAR at age 45, not convinced it was time. He was drawn in the following year to run 15 races for what is now RFK Racing, the team that gave the short racer from Wisconsin a Cup shot.
It proved a difficult rebuilding effort and Kenseth retired again at the end of the 2018 season.
But Kenseth didn’t like the idea of ending his NASCAR career that way. So he came back again. This time he returned with Chip Ganassi Racing, which had fired Kyle Larson four races into the season and hired Kenseth to stabilize the team.
And then he finally finished.
Kenseth started running – 10 miles a day – and the occasional marathon. Only the big ones, though. Kenseth has completed marathons in Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston. He is currently training for London.
As for the race? Well, Kenseth makes his Superstar Racing Experience debut this Saturday night at the Nashville Fairgrounds and will race the remaining three races in the all-star made-for-TV series. On Tuesday night, he will compete in the Slinger Nationals in his home state of Wisconsin.
“I’m definitely going out there to win and I definitely hope to win. I can’t stand not being competitive,” Kenseth said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I don’t know what to expect.”
Expect Kenseth to be well prepared. He just turned 50 after nearly three decades of NASCAR racing. Kenseth in April was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on his first ballot. He ran the Boston Marathon earlier that month without any publicity, but his time of 3 hours, 1 minute, 40 seconds certainly caught the eye. Kenseth finished 141st in the 50-54 men’s division, which had over 1,300 participants.
But in typical Kenseth fashion, he will be modest and overshadowed on his SRX debut. As Kenseth finally gets in on all the fun of the SRX, hometown racer Josef Newgarden, the two-time IndyCar champion who lives in the Nashville area, is also giving him a whirl.
Team Penske drivers don’t often get permission from team owner Roger Penske for after-school races, but NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney also received permission to race against his father at their hometown track. hometown in Ohio in the July 23 series finale.
“You know, I just asked very politely. I said, ‘Roger, it would mean a lot to me to go and do something different’ and he supported that,” Newgarden said. “Maybe it’s the first of a few things on the road.”
It could depend on how the fourth SRX race goes on Saturday night. It’s a streak without limits and co-creator Tony Stewart snatched Ernie Francis Jr. by the back of the collar two weeks ago in a heated exchange between stages. Stewart then won the race.
Kenseth has spent 22 years bumping the wings at Cup level. He also raced a group early in his career at the Fairgrounds, which is considered one of the most prestigious short tracks in the country. Speedway Motorsports wants to hold a Cup race at the fairgrounds.
Last year, the track was the site of the season one SRX finale. Chase Elliott beat his Hall of Fame father Bill to win the race as Stewart closed out the championship.
The entire Kenseth family – which includes two grandchildren of former driver Ross Kenseth, the only son of five Kenseth children – will be at the track on Saturday night for the first time.
Kenseth can legitimately not care about the record books while winning 39 Cup races and running consistently for the Championship. But when he learned he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame early next year, Kenseth couldn’t help but get a little sentimental.
“Now is the time to look back on what you’ve accomplished in your professional career, to look back and reflect on certain moments, certain times, people and relationships,” Kenseth said. “It’s a little different than when you’re in the middle of it; you probably took it a bit for granted.”