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Jim Polzin: Life outside the fast lane suits Matt Kenseth

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Matt Kenseth will get back into a race car this weekend for the first time in almost 18 months and is looking forward to it.

But don’t expect his appearance at Madison International Speedway — Kenseth is scheduled to compete Sunday in the Joe Shear Classic, an ARCA Midwest Tour event — to spur any ideas of a comeback for the Cambridge native.

Kenseth last raced in 2020, making 32 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing on the NASCAR Cup Series in place of Kyle Larson, who was fired after using a racial slur during a virtual iRacing event earlier that year. Racing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t fun — practices, qualifying and in-person interaction with his crew were wiped out for the most part — and the experience was mostly a sour one for Kenseth.

He spent last year away from the track completely and, well, it was great. There was no pining to get back in the race.

“This probably isn’t the right answer,” Kenseth said, “but I didn’t miss it at all.”

A test of sorts arrived in February when Kenseth joined the Fox broadcast booth for a race at Fontana, California. Fontana always was one of his favorite stops on the NASCAR Cup circuit but not once did Kenseth wish he was down on the track competing as he was looking down from the booth.

He’d gotten that out of his system the previous year, when Kenseth managed only two top 10s and an average finish of 21.4 after taking over for Larson.

“It was embarrassing how bad that I ran for me because I’ve never really run like that in my career, thankfully,” Kenseth said. “But it was also really good for me because it kind of put some closure on my professional driving career. It kind of made me feel like, ‘OK, your time has passed and it’s time to move on with the next chapter of your life.’”

What does that all include? A lot, actually.

Kenseth, who turned 50 in March, completed the Boston Marathon last week in 3 hours, 1 minute, 40 seconds. He never had much interest in running until a friend with a connection to the Abbott World Marathon Majors convinced him to start training. Kenseth’s wife, Katie, sold him on the idea of a trip to Germany in 2019 that would be mostly vacation save for one big event: the Berlin Marathon.

Kenseth completed that race and the New York City Marathon five weeks later. He crossed Chicago off the list last fall and now Boston, leaving him with only two Abbott majors to go: London, which he may try as early as October, and Tokyo.

Fatherhood also keeps Kenseth busy. He and Katie are raising four daughters — ages 4, 8, 11 and 12 — in North Carolina, and the girls always are involved in some sport or other activity.

“I feel like this is my place with Katie and my kids and being present,” Kenseth said. “Not everybody gets to do that, so that’s one blessing about having the kids later in our marriage and toward the end of my career. You get to spend all these years that you can’t get back. I don’t sit around very many days and get bored wondering what I should do next.”

Kenseth was at his oldest daughter’s basketball tournament just last weekend when he got the opportunity to deliver a lesson from his racing career. Kaylin Kenseth was bummed because she thought she’d played poorly and her father reminded her she had another game in two hours. His advice: Put the previous game in her rearview mirror and learn from it.

As successful as Kenseth’s racing career was, he looks back now and wonders if he was too hard on himself at times. He didn’t enjoy the wins as much as he should have and instead dwelled on the mistakes.

Now that he’s had more time to reflect, there’s a lot of satisfaction for Kenseth. He was the NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 2000 and won his only Cup Series championship in 2003. He won 39 Cup races, including a pair of Daytona 500s, and made the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons.

It was announced earlier this month that Kenseth is one of 15 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2023 and it’s here, during a phone conversation earlier this week, where his humility was on display. Kenseth not only brushed off a compliment about the Hall of Fame nomination, he later referred to himself as a “little-bit-above-average-driver” and gave everyone he’d worked with — crew chiefs, pit crew members, car owners, sponsors — all the credit.

“Looking back at it,” Kenseth said, “it exceeded everything I could have ever dreamed of.”

Kenseth has plans to race in three Superstar Racing Experience events in July. The series is co-owned and headlined by three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart.

As for this one Sunday — more information can be found at — Kenseth said he’s eager to reconnect with family, friends and fans. Just like every race — whether he’s driving or running — he anticipates butterflies as he awaits the start of it.

“I always like going back there,” Kenseth said. “It sure brings back a lot of memories.”

Contact Jim Polzin at


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