The 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion will come of retirement for a second time to drive Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 Chevrolet.
NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth might be catching up to fellow Wisconsin legend Brett Favre when it comes to unretirements.
Kenseth, 48, has been tapped by team owner Chip Ganassi to drive the No. 42 Chevrolet, per Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press. The Cambridge, Wisconsin native will replace the fired Kyle Larson when the NASCAR circuit resumes racing. Races have been on hold since early March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think Matt gives us the best chance to win, run up front and compete for wins,” Ganassi told Fryer. “I’ve always gone with the mantra of trying to take the best driver available, and he’s the best driver available right now. And he brings something to our sponsors that they need right now. Stability. No baggage. Family man. Daytona 500 winner. Championship winner.”
Kenseth will replace the disgraced Larson, who was fired from the No. 42 car for using a racial slur during a virtual race on the iRacing platform. Larson was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR but was fired when several sponsors of the No. 42 (including McDonald’s, Chevrolet, and Credit One Bank) severed ties with him.
It’s certainly easy to see why Kenseth earned the nod for Ganassi’s top ride. Kenseth previously partook in 18 full-time NASCAR Cup seasons, bringing home 39 wins and 328 top-ten finishes. His last full-time ride came in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota in 2017 but he temporarily ended his retirement a year later to sub in for the dismissed Trevor Bayne in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford.
It was with team owner Jack Roush that Kenseth had his finest runs. Kenseth won 24 races while piloting Roush’s No. 17 Ford full-time from 2000 through 2012. Their crowning achievement was their NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2003, the last before the implementation of a playoff system. Kenseth won only a single race that season, but his consistency (average finish of 10.2) allowed him to coast to the title.
In addition to his Cup Series title, Kenseth also earned the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year award, as well as two victories in the Daytona 500 (2009, 2012).
Kenseth takes over the No. 42 car that’s been previously piloted by Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. Larson drove the car to a sixth-place finish in last year’s standings and was in seventh at the time of his ousting.
Ganassi stated that he will seek a waiver from NASCAR so Kenseth can compete for the 2020 playoffs and Cup Series title. NASCAR rules dictate that the playoffs are open to only full-season drivers competing for Cup Series points, but waivers have often been granted in emergency situations. Kyle Busch, for example, won the 2015 Cup title after being granted a medical waiver for missing the first 11 races of the season due to injury.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series circuit ran four races before shutting down due to the pandemic. NASCAR has remained committed to running the full remaining slate of 32 races. A return to action without spectators is (very tentatively) scheduled for May 17 at Darlington Raceway.
In the meantime, NASCAR has collaborated with iRacing to stage virtual races starring drivers of the Cup Series past and present. The pixelated races, labeled the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, have been broadcast on the networks of Fox Sports.
Kenseth’s return isn’t the only positive development in terms of driver movement. Prior to the latest iRacing broadcast, Ryan Newman announced that it was very likely he would return to Roush Fenway’s No. 6 Ford when real racing resumes. Newman suffered a head injury after finding himself involved in a scary accident on the final lap of the 2020 Daytona 500 in February but has been medically cleared to race.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags