“I should’ve gotten a text,” Kenseth said to Earnhardt. “I shouldn’t have read that on social media.”
“You’re right,” Earnhardt said in response.
These are the dry humor moments that Kenseth’s peers will always remember.
The veteran was dead honest on if he was ready to end his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But although it wasn’t the optimal situation for Kenseth, these were the cards he was dealt.
One week after a dream victory, ensuring he’d go out on top the Homestead race saw Kenseth fading into the background. He ended the night with an eighth-place result, his 18th top 10 on the year.
When the 2003 Cup champion exited his No. 20 car, Brad Keselowski was the first one to come over and congratulate him on a career. But other than Keselowski and a handful of media, Kenseth left the sport keeping to himself and true to his character, just like he’s always been.
“It is a little hard to explain,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling and it makes you feel good when other people go out of their way to come and tell you something, show their respect for you or they enjoy being around you.”
The crowd Sunday night wound up swarming around Earnhardt, not Kenseth, on pit road. But NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver made sure to discuss his relationship with a man he shared the spotlight with the last 17-plus years.
“You don’t think about it until you get to this point in your career that all of the drivers have such a great influence in your life,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been bus lot mates for so many years, and he always would give me hell for not doing the right thing when it comes to treating each other as friends.
“I love the person he is. I love him whether he races cars for a living or doesn’t. We’re going to be friends for a long time.”
Earnhardt’s sentiment concluded a day full of emotions for Kenseth.
Prior to the race, he arrived to the No. 20 machine with wife Katie and his three daughters, Clara Mae, Grace Katherine and Kaylin Nicola. The family was greeted by a swarm of people dressed in yellow, orange and black, with fans screaming his name.
His entire No. 20 squad gathered around, waiting for him to take one final group picture.
“A lot of people did some nice things for me,” Kenseth said. “It really makes me feel good. It was a fun week, but I wish it was capped off a little better.”
Even when the checkered flag fell, Kenseth was left itching for more. It was clear his competitive drive is still there, and he wanted to go out with another win after capturing his final one in the penultimate race of his career at Phoenix International Raceway.
The driver hangs up his helmet with 39 Cup Series wins, which is 20th all-time, in 650 starts. The Cambridge, Wisc. veteran is a two-time Daytona 500 champion, with those triumphs coming in 2009 and 2012.
After spending the first 13 years as a full-time Cup driver with Roush Fenway Racing, he left the organization for Joe Gibbs Racing. In his time at Roush, he won 24 races, with another 15 trophies coming during his five seasons at Gibbs.