NASCAR: Realistic expectations for Matt Kenseth in 2020

Matt Kenseth, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Matt Kenseth has been tapped as the driver of the #42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing for the remainder of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. What are realistic expectations for him?

When racing resumes, Matt Kenseth will be getting back into a NASCAR Cup Series car for the first time since he finished in sixth place at Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of 2018.

With Kenseth having had that long of a layoff, it could lead to suggestions that he may have some rust that could keep him off the pace. The one good thing for him is that everyone will probably have some rust, as no driver has raced in the Cup Series since the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 8.

Rust should not be an issue for Kenseth, as everyone will have been out of the car for at least two months when racing returns.

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The last time Kenseth competed, he drove the #6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. In 2018, he made 15 starts and recorded two top 10 finishes. He split the season in the #6 Ford with Trevor Bayne to try to help the performance of the organization.

It seemed to work, as Ryan Newman took the #6 Ford to the playoffs in his first year with the team in 2019 for the first time since Mark Martin did it in 2006. As for 2020, Kenseth is stepping into a car that has made the playoffs in each of the last four years. In those four years, the #42 Chevrolet has seen victory lane six times. He is stepping into a race-winning car, which was last in victory lane at Dover International Speedway early last October.

Kenseth is set to reunite with Kurt Busch as his teammate. They were teammates at Roush Racing from 2000 to 2005. Both of them won championships during this span, with Kenseth winning in 2003 and Busch winning in 2004. Busch won at Kentucky Speedway in his first season at Chip Ganassi Racing last year.

With Kenseth having been granted a playoff waiver, it is not out of the question that he could qualify for the playoffs. With the “win and in” playoff format, all Kenseth needs to do is win a race before the playoffs and be in the top 30 in the championship standings by the time they begin.

David Ragan currently sits in 30th place in the championship standings with 33 points, and he has only competed in the Daytona 500 this year. He has no plans on racing again this season. Among full-time drivers, Daniel Suarez sits in 30th with 32 points.

Realistically, Kenseth should be able to compete for wins and potentially make a run in the playoffs. When he was in good equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing from 2013 to 2017, he made the playoffs every year and won at least one race in every year except for 2014. If he does manage to win a race this year, he could be a real championship contender.

As of right now, this is a one-year deal for Kenseth at Chip Ganassi Racing. But if he does really well and makes a run in the playoffs, Chip Ganassi may have to think about bringing him back for 2021.

However, the 48-year-old Cambridge, Wisconsin native is probably not thinking about that right now. His focus is on wheeling the #42 Chevrolet to strong races and wins throughout the 2020 season.

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With Matt Kenseth stepping into a top ride in the NASCAR Cup Series, he has the ability to compete for wins, and if there are 22 more races before the playoffs, as initially scheduled and still planned, he could win at least one of them and qualify for the postseason.