Sports News

Excited Newman, nervous Kenseth highlight NASCAR's comeback

Go ahead and call it a comeback.

FILE PHOTO: Feb 9, 2020; Daytona Beach, Florida, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Newman (6) during qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Newman will be behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford Mustang -- with a sweet Oscar Meyer tailgate-at-home paint job -- for the first time since his horrific crash at the Daytona 500 on Sunday at The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.

“I’m so excited and thankful to be healthy to get back into the race car,” Newman said in a statement provided by his team, Roush Fenway Racing. “I am thankful for all the people and support that have prayed for me and given me a multitude of miracles. I cannot think of a better track to start back at than Darlington, my favorite track and one we feel confident in. I’m excited to get back behind the wheel of the Oscar Mayer Ford.”

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season has been on hold since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I always look forward to racing at Darlington, and this weekend will be even more special as we celebrate NASCAR’s return to the track,” Newman said.

Sunday’s race is part of a double-dip at Darlington, followed by the “Track Too Tough To Tame” on Wednesday. No practice or qualifying will take place as part of NASCAR’s modified restrictions to limit contact due to COVID-19.

Newman, 42, suffered a brain bruise and non-life threatening serious injuries at Daytona. He also was knocked unconscious. He said upon being cleared he is still surprised when watching replays of the crash.

“Still humbling to watch it and know that I’m sitting here without a headache, which is amazing,” Newman said.

“On so many levels, I feel so lucky,” he said. “You look at the crash, you think that’s spectacular in a bad way. You look at the car afterwards, you think about all the things of what happened right for me to be sitting here.”

Newman and NASCAR are making returns, but so is Matt Kenseth. Kenseth paused retirement when Chip Ganassi Racing asked the 2003 champion to take over the No. 42 Chevrolet from Kyle Larson. Larson was dismissed for using a racial slur during streaming of an iRacing event.

The last time a NASCAR event was held at Darlington in the month of May, it was Kenseth who took the checkered flag at the 2013 Southern 500. He led just 17 total laps.

Newman’s return comes after weeks of rest and recovery. But Kenseth, 48, hasn’t competed in a competitive race since 2018 -- then for Roush Fenway Racing in a shared ride with Trevor Bayne. He did post a win in Wisconsin last year in a super late model race.

Kenseth said he wouldn’t have taken the call to return in February. But after time and consideration, he said his biggest motivation to answer CGR’s call to sit in for Larson was the feeling that he had “unfinished business.”

It probably didn’t hurt to be offered a car Larson had driven to three top-10 finishes this season.

“This just kind of came up out of nowhere, and honestly, it’s like one of those things you think about it for a little bit, talked to Katie a lot about it, and just seemed like the right deal at the right time for me. It’s a competitive car. I think they’ve got a great team over there,” Kenseth said on the Dale Jr. Podcast.

“Usually when you make a driver change or a crew chief change or all that, it’s almost always performance-related, right? So to have that opportunity to get in a car that’s currently running well -- I know you’re already part way into the season and all that -- but it’s currently running well and really, they just needed a driver. I just thought it was a good opportunity for me to take another stab at it.”

With 39 career wins in 18 seasons, Kenseth certainly knows his way around the track. He doesn’t know the feel of the No. 42, and Sunday’s race could be more of a training ground for what lies ahead.

“Never driving for this team and a different spotter, crew chief, equipment, car, steering, fit -- you know all the things that go into that to make you feel confident and make you feel comfortable and to be able to help you relay information. So it’s going to be pretty interesting,” Kenseth said. “I’m already a little anxious about that first lap at Darlington.”

Sunday’s race is the first of four in 11 days, including back-to-back events to follow at Charlotte.

Without qualifying, NASCAR will use results from each race to set up the following event. Sunday’s event sets the field for the May 20 race back at Darlington. The results of the Coca-Cola 600 will guide NASCAR to set the field for the Charlotte race on May 27.

Using owner points, a random draw for positions 1-12 will determine where drivers start on Sunday at Darlington. The same is true for teams in positions 13-24 and 25-36.

NASCAR said the draw will take place “by Friday.”

--Field Level Media