Kyle Larson’s replacement in the No. 42 car is a former Cup Series champion.
Chip Ganassi Racing revealed Monday that Matt Kenseth would take Larson’s seat for the remainder of the 2020 season. Larson was fired earlier in April after he said the n-word during a virtual race that was broadcast on NASCAR’s website.
“I think Matt gives us the best chance to win, run up front and compete for wins,” team owner Chip Ganassi told The Associated Press. “I’ve always gone with the mantra of trying to take the best driver available, and he’s the best driver available right now. And he brings something to our sponsors that they need right now. Stability. No baggage. Family man. Daytona 500 winner. Championship winner.”
Larson was fired by CGR a day after sponsors McDonalds and Credit One disassociated themselves with him. Without millions in financial backing to run a car driven by Larson, CGR was in a financially precarious position if it had wanted to keep Larson aboard following the racial slur.
Kenseth will officially need a waiver from NASCAR to run for the Cup Series title because he didn’t attempt to qualify for any of the first four races of the season. Given NASCAR’s leniency when it comes to playoff waivers it should be no problem for Kenseth to get one.
Making the playoffs will be a bit tougher. Kenseth will have to get a win and be in the top 30 in points to qualify for the playoffs or be one of the top points-earning winless drivers who fill out the 16-driver field before the playoffs begin.
Kenseth’s second replacement stint
Kenseth’s full-time NASCAR career ended in 2017 when he wasn’t retained by Joe Gibbs Racing. Yet this will be his second replacement stint in three seasons.
Kenseth came back for 15 Cup Series races in 2018 for old team Roush Fenway Racing as Trevor Bayne struggled. Roush hired Ryan Newman for the full-time ride in the No. 6 car in 2019 and Kenseth spent the entirety of that season on the sidelines.
It’s a move that’s a bit of a surprise. Kenseth has no ties to Ganassi and has never driven a Chevrolet in his Cup Series career. Whenever NASCAR resumes again in 2020, Kenseth will become the third former Cup Series champion along with Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, and Dale Jarrett to drive a Chevrolet, a Ford and a Toyota in the Cup Series.
Per the AP, Ganassi also reached out to Carl Edwards about the vacancy in its No. 42 car. Edwards declined. Edwards hasn’t driven in a NASCAR race since he abruptly retired at the end of the 2016 season.
Kenseth won the 2003 title
Kenseth is one of the most accomplished Cup Series drivers of the past two decades. He has 39 wins in over 660 starts and won the 2003 Cup Series title. That’s the final Cup Series season that was held without a playoff format. Kenseth clinched the 2003 title with a race to go and NASCAR instituted its playoff format the following season.
His final win came in 2017 at Phoenix in what turned out to be his penultimate race with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth had a late-career renaissance with JGR as he won 15 races in five seasons with the team. He had a career-high seven wins in 2013 as he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the points standings.
NASCAR has not officially announced a return date, though it is reportedly targeting mid-May for racing to resume. The Coca-Cola 600 is tentatively scheduled for May 24 and NASCAR has said that it is willing to hold races without fans in attendance as it attempts to run all 36 Cup points races by the end of the season.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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