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What’s next for Matt Kenseth? Deer hunting, half marathons and gymnastics meets

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HOMESTEAD, Florida – A few dozen photographers (including his young daughters) continuously snapped pictures, Hall of Famers offered congratulations, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stopped by to salute his good friend.

The frenzied and heartfelt prerace scene Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Matt Kenseth was a stark contrast to what followed what might be the last race of his career.

The 2003 champion exited his No. 20 Toyota, accepted congratulations from a few crew members and hopped up to take a seat on the pit wall while fielding three reporters’ questions.

About 50 yards down the frontstretch, a mosh pit was engulfing Earnhardt – who entered NASCAR’s premier series in the same 2000 season as Kenseth and soaked up all of the hype and fanfare. They exited in scenes Sunday night that virtually mirrored those beignnings, but of course it didn’t bother the Joe Gibbs Racing driver making the 650th Cup start

“You know me,” Kenseth said, “I’ve never been an attention seeker, but it was a really neat couple of weeks.”

Indeed, since he revealed Nov. 4 on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that he was stepping away from Cup – quite possibly for good – things have been good for Kenseth. After leading 29 laps in a fifth place finish at Texas, he broke a 51-race winless streak with a victory at Phoenix Raceway the next week.

In Sunday’s season finale, Kenseth placed eighth after running in the top five among the championship contenders for much of the race, but his surge caused no second thoughts about his decision.

“Not right now,” he said. “In a way the last 20 year has been a blur, but in another way, this has been a really long season. Last week helped a lot, but it’s been a long season, and I’m really looking forward to having a little bit of time off.

“We’ll see how I feel in July, but right now I’m looking forward to having some time off and looking forward to spending some time with my family here this next week or so and getting the banquet stuff behind me and then just getting to life.”

That starts with an annual Thanksgiving trip to Wisconsin.

“I’m looking forward to going up there and being cold and maybe go deer hunting for a couple of days and see some friends and family,” he said.

He surely will spend some time reminiscing about the 30 minutes he spent before climbing into his No. 20 Toyota for the green flag Sunday. Kenseth arrived from driver introductions with daughters Kaylin, Grace and Clara Mae and was soon joined by his wife, Katie (who is expecting another child next month) and his son, Ross. Kenseth’s sister and father also were in attendance.

During a nonstop parade of photos beside his yellow and black car, a receiving line of well wishers formed that included Jeff Gordon and Leonard Wood.

It was a prime location given that a retiring 14-time most popular driver’s No. 88 was drawing a crowd just behind Kenseth’s car.

Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and members of their teams pose for a photo after qualifying at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kenseth said Earnhardt demanded that he park his car beside his at the end of the prerace grid. Both drivers were running throwback paint schemes to their rookie seasons, prompting a dual pose beside their rides in the garage for a Friday group photo that had been set up by a phone call.

“I wanted that photo we did the other day because it’s pretty cool, so I kind of talked to him about it, and he kind of took the ball from there and told me what I had to do” about being situated at the end of the grid, Kenseth said with a laugh. I was like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, that’s your deal. You stay back there,’ and he was adamant that we be parked back there.

“Which was actually nice because we had a lot of room. We did about 25 minutes worth of pictures, which was really fun, seen a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. So it was really cool.”

Naturally, he quickly put all the sentimentality aside when the race began.

“The prerace stuff was really fun,” he said. “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.”

With no races on the calendar for the first time in more than two decades, Kenseth, 45, plans to focus on his expanding family (“I have three kids under 8, and we’re getting ready to have another one, so I’m not sure I’ve got time for a hobby.”) and his dedication to fitness. He has been training for a half-marathon next month and plans to enter some bike races in his age group.

“I got a lot of things I like to do, a lot of places I like to go,” he said. “I’m looking fowrad to it. The kids and the age they’re at, I’m really blessed to be able to go spend all this time with them. Anyone who has kids understands as they get older, their hobbies are your hobbies, right? So you spend a lot of time at gymnastics meets, basketball games and things like that.”

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.