Matt Kenseth, 45, the driver of the #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, won his 39th career NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday in the Can-Am 500, the final race of the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
His win, which caused him to break a 51-race win drought dating back to the New Hampshire race in July of 2016, drew praise from racing legend Mario Andretti.
Andretti, 78, literally did it all over the course of his racing career, so his praise should not be taken lightly. He won the 1967 Daytona 500, the 1969 Indianapolis 500, the 1978 Formula One championship and four IndyCar championships in 1965, 1966, 1969 and 1984. Right now, he still drives the Honda two-seat IndyCar with fans as his passengers to promote the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Here is what Andretti had to say to Kenseth following his win in the Can-Am 500.
Every NASCAR fan knows or at least should know that Kenseth does not have a ride lined up for next season in the Cup Series. Erik Jones, 21, who currently drives the #77 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, the team with which Joe Gibbs Racing has a technical alliance, is set to replace him, and Kenseth has been unable to land another opportunity.
But many people would agree with Andretti’s assessment. It is more than clear that Kenseth still has what it takes to compete at a high level in NASCAR’s top series, and he showed that by winning at Phoenix.
Had Kenseth not been penalized in the third and final Round of 12 race at Kansas Speedway for having too many crew members over the pit wall fixing his car after a late wreck, his win at Phoenix would have secured him a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami, where he would have battled with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in an attempt to secure his second career NASCAR Cup Series championship and first since he won the title the 2003 season, the final season before the playoffs were introduced.
However, NASCAR owners have recently gone after younger drivers to replace veterans in the 2018 season. Alex Bowman, 24, is set to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr., 43, and William Byron, 19, is set to replace Kasey Kahne, 37, at Hendrick Motorsports next season. Ryan Blaney, 23, is set to drive Team Penske’s third car next season, and as referenced above, Erik Jones, 21, is set to replace Matt Kenseth, 45, at Joe Gibbs Racing.
But in Mario Andretti’s eyes and in the eyes of many fans, Matt Kenseth should still have a full-time ride after the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season concludes. Asher Fair/BeyondTheFlag