Matt Kenseth to Return to NASCAR as Suspended Kyle Larson's Replacement

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2020

Matt Kenseth signs an autograph after a NASCAR Cup Series auto racing practice session at Darlington Raceway, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Terry Renna/Associated Press

Matt Kenseth, who hasn't competed in a NASCAR Cup Series race from behind the wheel since November 2018, will drive the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet as the replacement for Kyle Larson in Sunday's event at Darlington Raceway.

"How would you like to be one of those suckers lined up around me?" he joked on the Dale Jr. Download podcast (h/t Michelle R. Martinelli of USA Today's For The Win). "You think I'm nervous?"

Chip Ganassi Racing fired Larson, who was also suspended indefinitely by NASCAR, in April after he used a racial slur during a virtual iRacing event.

Kenseth, 48, has an impressive resume that includes the 2003 Cup Series title, the 2000 Rookie of the Year, two Daytona 500 victories and 39 career Cup wins.

However, his last full NASCAR season came back in 2017, and he is also racing in the No. 42 car for the first time without the benefit of working with a crew he is familiar with or a number of practice laps under his belt.

He told Dale Earnhardt Jr. the fact that the No. 42 car notched three top-10 finishes in the season's first four races before competition was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic was a contributing factor in his decision.

"Usually when you make a driver change or a crew chief change or all that, it's almost always performance-related, right?" he said. "So to have that opportunity to get in a car that's currently running well—I know you're already part way into the season and all that—but it's currently running well and really, they just needed a driver. I just thought it was a good opportunity for me to take another stab at it."

As for Larson, NASCAR suspended him in April and issued the following statement:

"NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base."

Sunday's race will be the first for NASCAR since it postponed eight events because of COVID-19 concerns.