Kenseth "really excited" to go back racing at Darlington

Nick DeGroot

As NASCAR prepares to make their return this weekend at Darlington Raceway, Matt Kenseth prepares to make his own return.

While it's been two months since the series was on-track, it'll have been over two years since Kenseth was last behind the wheel of a Cup car.

To make the learning curve even more challenging for the veteran driver, he will enter Darlington with no practice or qualifying. His first lap back will be the opening lap of the race. 

Considering he's only run "about fifteen minutes" on the simulator, it seems Kenseth is confident in his ability to adapt to the situation. 

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"Nobody has been in a car in a while; certainly, it’s been longer for me," said Kenseth. "I think the biggest difference for me, also, is that I haven’t driven these race cars or for this team. So, there are a few more unknowns. I’m not sure how exactly everything is going to feel and all that kind of stuff. There is certainly a little bit of anxiety for those first few corners to kind of get rolling and get used to things.

"At the same time, everybody is going to be ready to pounce. Restarts are very important, track position is very important and you always want to get what you can get when you can get it. So, I don’t expect people to be taking it real easy or maybe giving you a bunch of extra room or anything like that. You certainly don’t expect any kind of special treatment. You know everyone is going to be out there ready to pounce on whatever spot they can, so you just have to be smart. Especially for me, just be smart and get through those first bunch of laps to get in a rhythm, get a little bit of room to move around, breath, get kind of acclimated, and go from there.”

Returning to the track while facing several unknowns

Kenseth has 25 NCS starts at the iconic track, winning once in 2013. This will be the first spring race at Darlington in six years and it will be a bit of an adjustment dealing with the heat of the day.

“Darlington has obviously changed a lot during the years," explained the 2003 NCS champion. "There has been a re-pave in between there and certainly keeps getting bumpier and all that kind of stuff. But I think the cars, setups, rules and all that stuff seem to change probably faster than a lot of the tracks change. So, it’s a little different every time you go down. I don’t know that I have a good comparison for a day race in May compared to a summer race in September. It sounds like it’s going to be the first hot day of year on Sunday.

"It sounds like it’s going to get up to 90 degrees the last time I looked and that’s about the same that it usually is when we’re down there Labor Day weekend. I don’t really anticipate it being that much different at the start of the race, but it’ll certainly still be light by the end of the race. So, I think the end of the race will be different than the second one. I think it changes a little more at night. I think it picks up speed and changes balance just a little bit.”

This will be a whole new experience for the Wisconsin native as he must face the new aero package with a new team and at one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule with no track time.

He will be running the remainder of the 2020 season with Chip Ganassi Racing and has been granted a waiver from NASCAR, making him eligible for the playoffs should he make the 16-driver field.

“Right now, I’m not really looking too far beyond Sunday, to be totally honest with you," he said. "Certainly, the learning curve is going to be steep. I know being out of the car that long, starting with a different team and piling on top of not being able to practice for the foreseeable future, or testing and anything like that, is going to be very challenging. But, I’m really excited. I have to admit, I’m just as excited as I’ve been to go racing in many, many years. So, I’m really looking forward to getting to the track. I really like this group of guys, the cars look nice, the Camaro looks like they’re really fast, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity, I just know that it’s going to be a big challenge.

"I’m going to have to work hard and do my best to try and take advantage of the opportunity.”

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