In the wake of firing Kyle Larson due to his use of a racial slur, NASCAR Cup Series team owner Chip Ganassi had an important decision to make. Who should drive his No. 42 Chevrolet? In a surprise to many, Ganassi hired Matt Kenseth. Furthermore, NASCAR granted Kenseth a waiver so he is eligible to make the playoffs. But the surprise move left many wondering: did Chip Ganassi Racing make the right decision hiring Matt Kenseth? In this edition of 2-Headed Monster, Mark Kristl supports the choice whereas Clayton Caldwell disapproves.
Ganassi Chose Wisely
Chip Ganassi Racing surprised me with their decision, but they made a wise choice. After receiving unwanted publicity in the aftermath of the Larson situation, Ganassi hired arguably the most available driver with the best Cup Series resume: Kenseth.
When the team announced the hiring of Kenseth, Ganassi said, “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 is a Cup Series champion, winning the title in 2003. Over his past 10 seasons, only three times has he finished outside of the top 10 in the championship standings. In 2009, he finished 14th overall but won twice and achieved seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes. Not too shabby.
In 2015, he won five times and accumulated 20 top 10s. How then did he finish 15th in the standings? He intentionally wrecked Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway and was subsequently suspended for two races by NASCAR.
Lastly, in 2018, he only competed part-time (15 of 36 races) for Roush Fenway Racing. Driving a struggling No. 6 Ford, he ended his season with two top 10s in the final two races of the season. He proved he remains a talented driver.
Ganassi tweeted his catchphrase the day of the announcement.
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) April 27, 2020
As noted by Chip Ganassi Racing, Kenseth is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, but he has won 39 Cup Series races overall. He is a winner – one more career win than this year’s Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
Despite not competing in the Cup Series last year, since 2015, Kenseth has the eighth-most wins (eight).
Kenseth did not lose his prowess behind the wheel of a stock car. Last year, he won the Slinger Nationals, a late model race at Slinger Speedway. The track boasts it is the “World’s Fastest ¼ Mile Oval.” Kenseth led only one lap, but it was the most important one: the last one.
In that race, Kenseth also competed against some talented drivers. Among the entrants in the race were current NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series drivers Ty Majeski and Derek Kraus, reigning Cup Series Rookie of the Year Daniel Hemric, Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter and ARCA Menards Series multi-race winner Chandler Smith. Moreover, late model stars Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse and former NASCAR driver Rich Bickle made for a stout field.
Kenseth is also remarkably consistent in his Cup Series career, something he will need to continue as he chases a playoff berth. He has 329 top 10s in 665 career starts, nearly half (49.4%). Currently, Kurt Busch holds the final playoff spot with 90 points. Kenseth is 90 points behind, although there are 22 scheduled races remaining in the regular season. That amount is not insurmountable, but poor results will only increase his deficit.
CGR chose wisely in hiring its replacement driver for Larson. Busch and Kenseth previously were teammates and both are veteran Cup Series champions. It is a reunion between the two drivers.
2005 ➡️ 2020
— RawGator (@RawGatorYT) April 27, 2020
Their camaraderie should hasten Kenseth’s progress as he adjusts to competing in the Cup Series again.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced NASCAR to postpone races and the rumors of the revised schedule, condensed race days, etc., will continue the trajectory of an odd season.
Kenseth has competed in the Cup Series for 21 years. This will be his fourth different decade driving racing at NASCAR’s premier level. As a 48-year-old, he will more easily adjust to the changes compared to a younger driver or driver who has not competed in a long time.
In the team release, Ganassi noted this hiring is for this season only. I would not be surprised if Ross Chastain becomes the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2021. But this season, Ganassi chose Kenseth, his best choice to secure a playoff spot, keep sponsors committed to the team and give fans who rooted for Larson a familiar face. – Mark Kristl
NASCAR is Now a Young Man’s Sport
I was like everyone when I had heard the news that Kenseth was going to take over the No. 42 car for the remainder of the 2020 season. I was shocked – stunned actually. Kenseth hasn’t run the majority of the schedule since 2017 and is now by far the oldest driver in the field. He may have been the most decorated driver available, but that doesn’t mean he was the right option.
There’s no question that Kenseth’s resume was the most impressive of the drivers who were available. He has 39 wins, is a two-time Daytona 500 champion and is a former series champion. He has first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials but that doesn’t make him the right guy at the right time.
I did some research to see how drivers over the age of 45 have fared in NASCAR recently. Kenseth is currently 48 years old, almost 3½ years older than Jimmie Johnson, who is the second oldest full-time driver on the circuit.
Since 2010, no driver over the age of 45 has won a Cup race. Go back to 2005 and that number rises to just two. Mark Martin won five races for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 at the age of 50 and Dale Jarrett, who won at Talladega in 2005 when he was 48 years old.
In layman’s terms, only two drivers over the age of 45 have won a Cup race in the last 15+ seasons. That number is significantly down from the previous 15 seasons. NASCAR has become a young man’s sport any way you slice it. Is Kenseth now too old to win races and be competitive? You tell me. And it’s not just the age factor that is a problem for Kenseth.
There are rumors that this year’s Cup schedule will consist of one-day shows with limited practice sessions if any at all.
So let’s get this straight. The driver replacing Larson is 48 years old. He hasn’t run more than half the schedule in over two years, and he won’t have time practice sessions to help gel with a team and organization who he’s never worked with before? Oh, and this is all with a package he has very little experience with. I don’t know if 30-year-old Kenseth could overcome those challenges and win races.
NASCAR in 2020 is completely different than it was when Kenseth was a young driver learning how to race in NASCAR. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and the team may have been better off going with a driver who is more familiar with this package, more familiar with the race team and one who is not above the age of 45 in this new younger era of NASCAR. As the old saying goes, Father Time is undefeated.
One option that was a better hire was Ross Chastain. Chastain is running for points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2020, but he has run every Cup race this season after substituting for Ryan Newman. Last season, Chastain swapped his eligibility in the middle of the season and could have done it again in 2020. Since Kenseth got a waiver, one would think it wouldn’t have been an issue for Chastain to get one.
Chastain has been through rough patches before with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was scheduled to run the full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019 before the sponsorship fell through on that deal. Ganassi, to his credit, has honored his contract as Chastain is a CGR development driver. Yet, when a big opportunity arose for the 27-year-old Alva, Fla. native, the team elected a driver who has no previous ties to the organization and someone who has been out of a car for more than a year. Seems to me that Chastain got another raw deal.
Another option to drive the No. 42 could have been Bubba Wallace. Wallace is under contract with the Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet for 2020, but he’s a Chevrolet driver who is eligible to run for the championship. Wallace is the lone African American driver on the circuit right now and hiring him to replace Larson would have been an awesome PR move to boot. He’s a young, hungry driver and while there may have been some hurdles to get him out of his contract from RPM, it would have made a lot of sense.
After the news that Kenseth got a waiver, you really could see literally anyone getting a waiver if they were hired for this ride, opening up a plethora of options in the Xfinity and Truck Series. Many of those options have raced more recently than Kenseth and are younger by over 25 years.
Yet, Ganassi goes with someone who hasn’t raced in over a year. While I like Kenseth and think he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I don’t understand what CGR is thinking with this move. There’s no doubt Kenseth is a big name but other drivers – including one in their stable – would have made a little more sense. – Clayton Caldwell