Matt Kenseth returns to series racing Saturday, July 9, at Nashville Fairgrounds as he finishes the final three races of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) schedule. This will be Kenseth’s first start in Tony Stewart’s spec car series, a debut two years in the making.
Kenseth might not have been done with racing when his Joe Gibbs Racing ride was handed over to Erik Jones at the end of the 2017 season, but instead of finding a non-competitive ride for a smaller team, he chose to leave the Cup series on a high note. In his next-to-last start in the No. 20, he won his 39th senior series race at Phoenix Raceway after starting seventh and went on to finish eighth in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway the next week.
He didn’t stay gone for long.
The urge to race remained, however, and the next year he was brought back to Roush-Fenway Racing – the team with which he had so much success – to help evaluate the flagship No. 6. It took a while, but he finally got them competitive with two top-10s to close the season.
In 2020, he was pressed into service with Chip Ganassi after Kyle Larson was fired from that ride. He finished second in the Brickyard 400 that year.
“The time goes by in a hurry,” Kenseth said earlier this week in a SRX Zoom call with the media. “It seems like it was not that long ago that we were [moving up to Cup]. It seems like a long time ago, but in most ways it doesn’t. It’s kind of fun now that you’re away from full time racing to look back and think about some of those great moments and things that happened throughout my career.”
Kenseth planned to run in SRX last year, but the start date of the series was moved up and family obligations kept him from doing so. Even now, he skipped the first three weeks of the SRX season to complete a six-week vacation with his family. That’s the benefit of being semi-retired.
But July will make up for Kenseth’s time away from the track. In addition to finishing off the SRX season, Kenseth will gun for his eighth Slinger Nationals title on Tuesday, July 12. He’s won three of the last four of those he entered, (2012, 2016 and 2019), and finished second in the other race.
With three winners in the first three weeks of SRX and racing equally prepared cars, Kenseth has a great opportunity to win at Nashville.
And while winning is foremost in his mind, it’s not the only thing his thinking about. Simply getting a chance to race against some of the greatest drivers from his generation is an end in itself.
“[SRX] has a lot of similarities to the old IROC series, which I always enjoyed racing in because you could race against a lot of guys you weren’t [regularly] on the track with,” Kenseth said. “It’s fun to go back and race with Greg [Biffle] and Ryan [Newman] and Tony [Stewart], the guys you’re familiar with.
“But it’s also fun to go race against people that you’re not familiar with that have had a lot of success in different forms of motorsports. So that’s the part that is almost the most interesting to me because I remember I thought it was the coolest thing ever I got to race against Steve Kinser when he came back racing in the in the IROC series, watching him win all those sprint car races and how famous he was and how good he was and all that. It’s fun to race against them all, but its more intriguing to race against some of the people you have never shared a racetrack with.”
Once the series clears this weekend, Kenseth will be out of his comfort zone.
SRX heads to I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo. and then will close out Kenseth’s busy month at Sharon (Ohio) Speedway, a couple of dirt short tracks. Kenseth’s experience on dirt is minimal. He would say almost non-existent, but Kenseth has seven starts in Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream, an invitational race held from 2005 through 2012. Kenseth finished a career-best fifth there in 2009.
“We definitely tried to race, but obviously it’s more exhibition than racing,” Kenseth said. “It’s not like you’re trying to run the World 100. So that’s really my only experience. I’ve a done a little match racing in different shows at a couple of tracks. But I’ve never really raced like a real race on dirt. I’m looking forward to that. It’s something that has really intrigued me since running that late model at Eldora. It was so much fun and something I wish I had done a little more in my career. I guess, why not start now?”
Not that Kenseth needs the validation – he’ll be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year in recognition of his stellar career – but if he can get a win on one of the SRX dirt tracks, it will be a nice coda indeed.
— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) May 13, 2022