NASCAR: Is Matt Kenseth actually retiring this time?

Matt Kenseth is set to step away from NASCAR Cup Series competition now that the 2020 season is complete. Will he actually do it this time?

For the third time since 2017, 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth is slated to retire from racing.

Here is what he had to say earlier this week, according to Wisconsin State Journal.

“I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that my days in professional racing — at least full-time professional racing — are over. I look forward to doing late model stuff or IMSA, or something like that. A little bit here or there. As far as NASCAR racing full-time or professional racing, those days are behind me.”

He first stepped away from the sport after the 2017 season, when he was replacing by Erik Jones behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota that he had driven for Joe Gibbs Racing since 2013.

But he didn’t stay away for long.

With Trevor Bayne struggling behind the wheel of the #6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing early in the 2018 season, Kenseth was called upon to share that ride with Bayne throughout the remainder of the season.

The 2019 season ended up being Kenseth’s first season without any Cup Series starts since 1997, which was the year before he made  his debut in the series. But once again, he didn’t stay away for long.

Kyle Larson, who had driven the #42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing since replacing Juan Pablo Montoya after the 2014 season, was fired by the team after just four races had been contested this season.

During what ended up being a 10-week hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Larson was competing in a virtual race on iRacing and used the N-word. After he was suspended by NASCAR and multiple sponsors cut ties with him, Chip Ganassi effectively had no choice but to cut him.

The Brett Favre of NASCAR was not seen as a replacement candidate for Larson by anybody. But as we all know, Ganassi likes winners, and the 2003 champion fit that bill, so he shocked us all by announcing that it would be Kenseth behind the wheel of the #42 Chevrolet for the rest of the 2020 season alongside Kurt Busch, who had been his teammate at Roush Racing from 2000 to 2005.

The 48-year-old Cambridge, Wisconsin native showed some bright spots after returning unexpectedly, including a 10th place finish in his first race back at Darlington Raceway and a second place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway behind Kevin Harvick.

But the rest of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season illustrated that Matt Kenseth is well past his prime, and his third “retirement” may very well be his last.

His average finish in 32 races was just 21.4, the worst of his career, and he did not finish any races inside of the top 10 aside from the two discussed above.

He ended up finishing in 28th place in the championship standings with 521 points (average of 16.28 points per race), and even including Larson’s 121 points from the first four races (average of 30.25 points per race), which slotted him into a seventh place tie in the standings, the #42 team only ended up in 22nd in the owner standings.

Ross Chastain is set to replace him next year.

It seems safe to say that Kenseth’s start at Phoenix Raceway in the 2020 season finale two Sundays ago was his 697th and final start.