DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) Matt Kenseth’s goals are all short-term these days.
The 2003 NASCAR champion who rejoined owner Jack Roush at Roush Fenway Racing two months ago understands he’s not yet a threat to win in the No. 6 Ford. And with a part-time schedule, Kenseth is not worried about points or the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
”It’s a lot different than anything I ever done before,” Kenseth said Wednesday at Darlington Raceway, where he took part in a tire test. ”It’s stepping into something that’s somewhat of a project.”
And one that Kenseth’s not sure he’s yet helped improve.
He was 36th in his return with Roush Fenway at Kansas last month due to an accident. Kenseth took the pole for the All-Star race at Charlotte and finished 14th in the race, then 17th a week later in the Coca-Cola 600. Kenseth felt the team had improved a week ago with a 13th at Pocono and is looking for better things this weekend at Michigan.
Kenseth had 39 wins in 21 years of racing, most of those as Roush driver. Their biggest moments came in the 2003 championship season when the ultra-consistent Kenseth had a win and 25 top 10s to capture the title.
After the 2012 season, Kenseth jumped to Joe Gibbs Racing where he finished second in the championship chase in 2013. He lost his ride at JGR after this past season and could not find a fulltime seat for 2018.
Instead of fretting about lost opportunities or lobbying for a spot, Kenseth stayed content and comfortable on the sidelines with his family. His 25-year-old son Ross races stock cars, and Matt and wife Katie have four daughters ranging from 8-year-old Kaylin to five-month old Mallory.
But amid the family time, a call came from his old boss, Roush.
Kenseth thought about the offer and, because of his respect for Roush, decided to return and help improve the one-time powerhouse No. 6 ride made famous by Hall of Famer Mark Martin. Trevor Bayne was in the No. 6 at the start of the season.
Kenseth said his role is to help get his car and the No. 17 team of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. running alongside NASCAR’s best.
”There’s a lot of great things there and they have a lot of good momentum,” Kenseth said of the Roush Fenway teams. ”But we still know there’s a lot of work to do to get both cars up there contending week in and week out.”
That’s part of the reason Kenseth and the team came to Darlington for the tire test. Kenseth won the Southern 500 here in 2013 and has 12 top-10 finishes in 24 starts, so he’s adept at navigating the track. The extra laps, though, give him an extra chance to bond with the No. 6 crew during the tire tests.
”That’s an important thing,” he said.
Kenseth has enjoyed his changed role in NASCAR and hopes he can improve Roush Fenway’s fortunes for this season and beyond – but not necessarily with him in the car long-term. The 46-year-old driver sees this season as a week-to-week proposition without an eye on staking himself to a full-time job because of satisfactory performance.
Many of his contemporaries like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart have wrapped up their racing careers and Kenseth said he enjoyed his free time around his family. But he’s grateful, he said, to do his part to help Roush, who gave Kenseth his big boost in NASCAR .
”I don’t feel like I’ve been a real big help so far so every week I hope we can keep improving,” Kenseth said. ”Every week has been a little bit better. It hasn’t been near as much as I’d hoped it would be from the grandstands or the measurable eye. But every week, I feel we’ve made some baby steps at getting better. So hopefully, just try and continue that march.”
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