Being on the wall is a place no driver wants to end up.
Being on a Wall of Fame is a much better place to end up.
Former NASCAR star Matt Kenseth returned to Madison International Speedway on Friday, Aug. 16 to be inducted into the track’s Wall of Fame, and also to race in the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Howie Lettow 100.
The Cambridge native’s last race at MIS prior to Friday night came in 2014, when he won the Howie Lettow 100. Kenseth has won six out of 12 starts at MIS since 2003.
Kenseth passed Seymour native Ty Majeski in the final lap July 9 to win the Slinger Nationals title at Slinger Super Speedway. On Friday night, Majeski avenged the close loss and picked up his sixth career victory in the Howie Lettow 100, as Kenseth settled for fourth.
Starting close to home
Kenseth first raced at Madison International Speedway in 1988 as a 16-year-old. He raced weekly at his home track from 1993-95 against short-track legends Dick Trickle and Robbie Reiser, and dominated. Kenseth won the track championship in 1994, and was the runner-up in 1993 and 1995.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember yesterday,” he joked. “I’ve had a lot of run races here, a lot of great memories watching and racing every weekend back then.”
Big break, big star
Kenseth climbed the short-track ladder, and made his first Winston Cup Series start in 1998 at Dover. He edged Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the series’ Rookie of the Year honor in 2000.
Kenseth became the last driver to hold the title of Winston Cup Series champion in 2003, even though he only won once in 36 starts. The series’ primary sponsorship switched to Nextel the following year.
Kenseth ran 665 races over 21 years in NASCAR’s top series, highlighted by his championship in 2003 and two Daytona 500 victories in 2009 and 2012. His 39th and final win in NASCAR’s top series came in 2017 at the fall race in Phoenix.
Without a sponsor for the 2018 season, Kenseth stepped away from a full-time schedule after the 2017 season. He raced part-time in 2018 for Roush Fenway Racing.
“It was good to come back and run part-time last year,” Kenseth said. “It validated some things for me, and the schedule wasn’t too bad.”
Kenseth said Friday he did not miss staying in hotels and being at the track all the time during his time in NASCAR. However, he was thankful he could scratch his competitive itch Friday night at his home track.
“There are some things you miss,” Kenseth said, “like being a part of a team and having that camaraderie as a unit. It sounds odd, but I miss Tuesdays. You’re in all these meetings and checking over stuff with the crew chief, engineers and design people.”
Still busy in retirement
Kenseth, 47, said Friday he has no other races planned for the remainder of the year. He will be the Grand Marshal of the NASCAR Xfinity Series CTECH Manufacturing 180 on Aug. 24 at Elkhart Lake’s Road America.
For the most part, Kenseth has been able to spend the majority of his time with his wife, Katie Martin, and the couple’s four daughters.
“We’ve had a really run summer,” he said. “It feels like we haven’t been home but four or five days between a lot of travel for vacations. We have spent a good amount of time up here though. It’s been nice to be home and spend time with Katie and the girls.”
Kenseth also has a son from a previous relationship, and it appears the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Ross Kenseth has raced part-time in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series, ARCA Midwest Tour, CRA Super Series and the ARCA Racing Series.