Ross Kenseth excited to make NASCAR debut
By Nicholas Dettmann
Being the son of a two-time Daytona 500 champion and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has had its advantages.
And it has nothing to do with maybe getting an opportunity before others may have deserved it or having an opportunity to compete with the best equipment, while other scrape together what they can just to make it to the race track.
The advantage for Ross Kenseth to be Matt Kenseth’s son is how to adjust to the pressure that comes from those aforementioned criticisms.
Ross Kenseth will make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut June 19-20 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. He’ll drive the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing entry.
“I’m really excited about it,” Ross Kenseth said. “It’s been something I’ve been trying to put together for a while now.”
Kenseth has known since mid-April he was going to do this. With the race less than a month away, the excitement and anxiety of waiting is growing.
“It’s starting to feel a little bit more real,” Kenseth said. “I’m just trying to stay in shape and be prepared for it.
“I just can’t wait to get to the race track that weekend.”
Kenseth, who turned 22 on May 25, is excited about the opportunity to fulfill a dream of racing NASCAR, but to also do it in a car and with a team that’s enjoyed success for many seasons.
The No. 20 car has been driven by three drivers, including Matt Kenseth. Erik Jones has competed in eight races, with five top-five finishes, including one victory (Texas). Kenseth has done three races with a pair of second-place finishes and eighth-place finish. Denny Hamlin won the only race he did in the car (Richmond).
“All of the guys have been on their game since Daytona,” Ross Kenseth said of the No. 20 crew.
“I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity for a one-race deal and get my first start.
“As a driver, you couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in with how that car has been.”
On top of that, Kenseth will make his NASCAR debut about an hour from where he went to high school.
So talk about pressure for the third generation racer. But again, pressure is nothing new.
Instead, he just smiles and goes on.
“I’m really glad with how everything worked out,” Kenseth said.
To try and pass the time and ease the anxiety of waiting for the biggest race of his life, he’s raced his late model as often as possible. He’ll also do a dirt race in Michigan, the ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway and a CRA race at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan, the Tuesday before the race at Chicagoland.
When he’s not doing that, he’s studying the race track, a track his dad has won at.
“I watch any race live that I can,” Kenseth said.
It’s all helped him be distracted from the Chicagoland opportunity, but in a good way.
“You just try to stay focused on your next race,” Kenseth said. “When the time comes, just make sure you’re ready for it.
“Having that much racing in between is a good thing, a little bit of a distraction, that way you don’t get too much into it.”
“If it were up to me, I’d race every weekend,” he added. “Unfortunately, that’s not how this sport works.”
It’s also not like he doesn’t deserve the opportunity. He’s had to be patient, too.
“I’ve had a lot of deals that, not quite to this level or magnitude, I felt pretty solid about,” Kenseth said. “It comes down to a week or two and something falls apart. I was happy this came together.”
“Hopefully I can perform at my ability and good enough to get more races in the future,” he added.
Kenseth has enjoyed success at many of the top Late Model races in the country. He has top-10 finishes at the Snowball Derby, the All-American 400, the Redbud 300 and the Howie Lettow Memorial 150.
He won the All-American 400 in 2012 in Nashville.
Kenseth believes he is ready for the opportunity and shrugged off feeling pressure.
“There’s not any more pressure than I put on myself,” he said. “I’m in the best situation possible.”
After the NASCAR debut, Kenseth will compete in his sixth Slinger Nationals, which is July 14 at Slinger Superspeedway.
“I look forward to it every single year,” Kenseth said. “It’s one of those races that’s got a lot of history and being somewhat from the area and being from the Midwest.
“It was one of those races growing up you always heard about. It’s the one race I’ve been trying real hard to get a win at.”
Matt Kenseth hasn’t indicated to track officials if he will try for a record-extending seventh Slinger Nationals title.
Ross Kenseth will race one of Dennis Prunty’s cars at Nationals. This season, Prunty, the 2012 Super Late Model track champion, is second in the Super Late Model standings.
At Slinger, Ross Kenseth has done well.
He won the Limited Late Model feature on Slinger Nationals night in 2009. He finished third three times in the next four years (2010, 2012, 2013) and was sixth in 2012.
Last year, he was 19th with a mechanical problem.
Ross Kenseth also finished fifth in a weekly show July 3, 2011, at Slinger. Outside of last year’s result, Kenseth’s average finish at Slinger is fourth.
“I’m looking forward to going back this year,” he said.
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