As Matt Kenseth sits in the prime of his NASCAR racing career, his son, Ross, is now set to embark on one.
Joe Gibbs Racing announced Friday the younger Kenseth will drive its No. 20 Toyota in the June 20 Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, which will be his first start in one of NASCAR’s three national series.
Ross Kenseth will drive a car with the same make, same number, same sponsor and for the same organization as his father.
Could Matt Kenseth have played a role in his son’s opportunity?
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“Chances are he had something to do with it,” said Ross, with the same trademark sarcastic wit as his dad.
“We’ve talked about it quite a bit over the last year. It’s been trying to get the situation to be right. Everything came together with Dollar General and Coach (Joe Gibbs) taking a chance on me.
“Having everything line up where they had an open race, and it worked out to be Chicago, which I was excited about being so close to home.”
Ross, 21, has spent much of his racing career competing on short tracks but turned heads with his third-place performance last season in the Automobile Racing Club of America race at Kansas Speedway with a low-funded team.
“Getting the track time there was huge for me,” Ross said. “Going into the event, I never ran a mile-and-a-half race before, so I didn’t know what to think or really how it was going to go down.
“It took me about 10 to 15 laps to learn how to pass the guys and use the air a little bit. Once I figured that out, it made a huge difference for me personally as far as getting around people and being more competitive.”
Ross has accumulated some impressive credentials in his career already, including winning the Red, White and Blue state championship at Wisconsin International Raceway in 2011, and picking up victories in high-profile races in 2012 at Winchester, Ind., and Nashville, Tenn.
“We’ve got several young, talented drivers in our stable, and now we have the chance to add Ross Kenseth to that list,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “Ross has been working hard and showing that he is ready for this next step.”
Ross called the opportunity to make a NASCAR national series start “a dream come true.”
“It’s the chance every driver wants to have. You don’t want to get in a car where you’re fighting to run 30th,” he said. “It’s real exciting to be a part of the JGR organization.
“The No. 20 car has been the car to beat pretty much this whole year in the Xfinity Series, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Matt Kenseth, who won the 2003 Cup series championship, said his son has been working very hard to get a good opportunity for his NASCAR debut.
“Certainly, I don’t think the opportunity could be any better than this. I feel like the No. 20 is one of the best cars out there this year with (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) running that thing,” he said.
“It’s exciting for me and it’s an off-weekend so I’ll be able to be there and be part of that. He’s won a lot of big short track races and he’s never going to be more ready for the opportunity than he is now.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter