By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
With his future unknown, Matt Kenseth was able to go out on a high note. Kenseth, who is without a ride for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, earned a top-10 finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kenseth’s No. 20 DeWalt Hurricane Relief Toyota Camry (fashioned to look like his rookie car), quietly ran inside the top-10 throughout the night. He shared his final career race with his friend and competitor, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who announced his retirement earlier this season. When the checkered flag waved, Kenseth found himself in eighth, behind those competing for the Championship. It might not be the way he wanted to go out, but his legacy will remain.
Kenseth sincerely wanted the fans to decide what his legacy on NASCAR will be,
“I always answer this wrong. You know, I don’t know. I think at the end of the day, people make up their minds. You know, some people are going to like you, some people aren’t. Some people are going to respect you, some people won’t. So I mean, whatever people think, they think. I did the best I could every week. Didn’t always do the right thing, that’s for sure, but raced as hard as I could and at the time I always felt like I was trying to do the right thing and gave it my all every time I went to the race track, so that’s all I could do.”
What is likely a Hall of Fame career for Kenseth culminated in his 650th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. The 2003 NASCAR Premier Series Champion earned 39 victories, including two Daytona 500s (2009 and 2012), in 18 years of full-time competition. He earned a staggering 181 top-fives, 327 top-10s, and 20 pole positions. Kenseth was still running at the finish of about 90.6% of the races he competed in. He only competed for two teams in his full-time career, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kenseth laughed, admitting that he didn’t think much about his final laps, other than trying to pass the next car,
“I didn’t think about much the last 20 laps except for trying to get by the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car to be honest totally honest with you. Obviously last week was a magical week or race – to win that race and then this week has been really fun. The pre-race stuff was really fun. I was glad Katie (Kenseth, wife) was able to get down here and all and having the kids here, my dad, my sister and everybody. It was really fun obviously what DeWalt did with this paint job and Habitat for Humanity, but doing my rookie paint job was cool as well. So it was a really cool day, but once you start the engine, really didn’t think about anything to be honest with you, except for trying to go out and perform the best you can and trying to win that race.”
Kenseth also had 288 career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts with 29 victories. His best result was the 1998 season when he finished behind Earnhardt in points. Kenseth also had 139 top-fives, 202 top-10s, and 17 pole positions.
Prior to the green flag, Kenseth joined Earnhardt on pit road and on track. The duo saluted the pit crews and the fans as NASCAR paid tribute to the two veterans and their impact on the sport. Kenseth, narrowly won the 2000 Sunoco Rookie of the Year title over Earnhardt.
If there was one thing that Kenseth will miss from racing, it’s the fans,
“Man, I don’t know. I guess the fans. You know, you hear them yelling right now and last week was really, really neat when I was doing that backwards victory lap, the Polish victory lap like (Alan) Kulwicki did at Phoenix ironically. You could hear the fans screaming through the window and just all the respect that they’ve shown me the last couple weeks has been really, really humbling, so probably, I’ll miss that the most.”
With his future still unknown, Kenseth, can take a deep breath, knowing that although it wasn’t his choice, he still got to go out on a high note.