Of the 40 drivers who are entered into Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox), no one is more familiar with the “Lady in Black” than Matt Kenseth.
Despite not having any starts since 2018, Kenseth remains the active Cup driver in laps turned around the 1.366-mile track with 8,455. Next on the list is his teammate, Kurt Busch (7,970 laps).
Since his first Cup start there in 1999, Kenseth has 25 Darlington starts, one win (2013) and three top fives. His only DNF in those starts was in 1999.
As for Sunday’s race, there’s plenty Kenseth is a stranger to.
He’s never competed in the high downforce, low horsepower package the Cup Series will utilize.
It will be his first race with Chip Ganassi Racing, his first race in a Chevrolet Camaro and his first race with crew chief Chad Johnston and spotter Tony Raines.
And like the rest of the field, the 48-year-old veteran doesn’t get any practice or qualifying laps.
“Kind of a few more unknowns and not sure you know how exactly everything’s gonna feel,” Kenseth said in Thursday teleconference. “So certainly there’s a little bit of anxiety for those first few corners until you kind of get rolling and get used to things.”
But eventually, Kenseth knows there’s going to come a time when “everybody’s gonna be ready to pounce,” and it’ll likely be a restart.
“Track position is very important,” Kenseth said. “You always want to get what you can get, when you can get it, so I don’t expect people to be taking it really easy or maybe giving you a whole bunch of extra room or anything like that. You certainly don’t expect any kind of special treatment. … So you’re just gonna have to try to be smart. Especially for me, just try to be smart and get through those first few laps and kind of hopefully get in a rhythm, get a little bit of room to move around and breathe and get kind of acclimated and go from there.”
Kenseth spent part of Thursday at CGR’s shop going over the “final details” of his No. 42 Chevrolet to make sure “the fit is good.”
As many drivers have, Kenseth has spent time in a simulator preparing for the first NASCAR race in 10 weeks. But Kenseth admits he didn’t devote too much time to it, simply because it can’t replace the real thing.
“Really didn’t spend an extended period of time there because in my mind it’s still not like driving the race cars,” Kenseth said. “A lot of things are very similar, but there’s a lot of things that are different as well.”
Even with the hurdles he faces going into one of the stranger races NASCAR has ever had to hold, Kenseth is embracing a “steep” learning curve with enthusiasm.
“I’ve got to admit, I’m as excited as I’ve been to go racing in many, many years,” Kenseth said. “I’m really looking forward to getting to the track. And I really like this group of guys. Cars look nice, Camaros look like they’re really fast. … I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. I just know that it’s gonna be a big challenge. I’m gonna have to work hard and do my best to try to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Darlington here we come! pic.twitter.com/yYukIpHuIe
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) May 14, 2020