Matt Kenseth is back in the NASCAR Cup Series. On Monday, Chip Ganassi Racing announced the longtime veteran will drive the team’s #42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the remainder of the 2020 season, replacing the recently-fired Kyle Larson.
“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,” Chip Ganassi said. “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 last raced in NASCAR in 2018 on a part-time basis for Roush Fenway Racing. Prior to that, he ran the full Cup schedule for Roush and Joe Gibbs Racing from 2000 to 2017, winning thirty-nine races and the 2003 championship. He spent 2019 racing late models in his home state of Wisconsin, and also served as the grand marshal for that year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America.
It will be Kenseth’s first foray in a Chevrolet at the Cup level, having raced Fords with Roush and Toyotas with Gibbs. He last drove a Chevy in NASCAR with Reiser Enterprises in the now-Xfinity Series in 2001.
“This was an unexpected opportunity for sure. I can’t say racing was even on my radar two weeks ago,” Kenseth stated. “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.”
The move reunites him with Kurt Busch, who served as his team-mate at Roush from 2001 to 2005. The two are RFR’s only Cup championship-winning drivers.
“Extremely proud of the decision we’ve made at @CGRTeams to pick a past @NASCAR champion to elevate our game,” Busch tweeted. “@mattkenseth will be an asset right away, and I can’t wait to get back to racing, with an old teammate friend.”
Incidentally, in an interview with the Associated Press, Ganassi commented that he had approached Carl Edwards for the #42, but he turned it down. Edwards, who retired after the 2016 season, was Kenseth’s team-mate at Roush from 2004 to 2012, followed by working with him at Gibbs in 2015 and 2016.
Fan speculation also pointed to Ross Chastain as the logical option for the #42. The 2019 Truck Series runner-up and current Xfinity driver was filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Roush’s #6 when the Cup season was halted. On Sunday, Newman announced his intention to return to racing once the season restarts. Talking with AP, Ganassi added that the team has “plans for [Chastain].”
“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,” Kenseth said. “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.”
The team will petition for NASCAR to provide a playoff eligibility waiver to Kenseth should be qualify. Although Kenseth has not run a single race in 2020, the season pause came after just four rounds, while the circumstances are perhaps extenuating enough for CGR to justify their request. Larson had been ousted from the #42 two weeks prior after his suspension.