From The Athletic
By Jordan Bianchi Feb 25, 2022
When Matt Kenseth stepped away from NASCAR after the 2020 season, he didn’t see himself embarking on a second career as a NASCAR television analyst. The media side of things was not something that appealed to him during his illustrious career that included winning the 2003 Cup Series championship and two Daytona 500s, and the appeal wasn’t there when his racing days concluded. Instead, he preferred to focus his time on his family, travel and other hobbies.
Then came a phone call from Clint Bowyer a few weeks ago. Kenseth doesn’t recall the exact timing, just that Bowyer, a friend and current Fox Sports analyst, had an idea. One that began to sway Kenseth’s mind whether he should try his hand at doing something he had long resisted.
With Jeff Gordon departing the Fox broadcast booth to take on a full-time executive role at Hendrick Motorsports, the network was looking not to replace Gordon with one person but by utilizing a rotation of personalities. Tony Stewart was already slated to join Bowyer and play-by-play commentator Mike Joy for the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum and the Daytona 500, and Bowyer wanted Kenseth to fill the spot for this Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Was Kenseth interested?
“I thought about it for a week or so and then decided to give it a try,” Kenseth said.
From that conversation with Bowyer stemmed a call with a Fox Sports executive that culminated with Kenseth agreeing to participate. It will mark the first time Kenseth has been a television analyst and potentially could open the door for future opportunities.
The Athletic spoke to Kenseth about his endeavor into broadcasting, what intrigued him and assorted other topics, including whether he has any plans to race this year.
(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What has Matt Kenseth been up to since leaving NASCAR?
Oh man, just mostly shuttling kids around, so really just kind of spending time with Katie (his wife) and the kids and all their sports, trying to go on vacation a little bit now and then, and getting down and seeing Ross (his oldest son) and his family down there in Florida when we can, and then training for the Boston Marathon.
Have you given much thought about NASCAR since leaving or have you moved on to the next phase of your life and put your attention solely on that?
That’s funny. I would say last year I probably did not really watch a ton of it — more so at the beginning of the year than at the end; (at) the end of the year, I watched more. But we did a long family vacation last year going all over the place and just kind of unplugging and really just focusing on the family and spending time with the kids while they’re young and enjoying that.
But I’ve definitely been paying more attention this year, and I did pay attention to storylines last year and watch some of the races and read some stuff. So, I’d say I pay attention but not every minute of every week like it used to be.
Did you get a chance to watch Sunday’s Daytona 500, and if so what were some of the takeaways for you?
I did. I watched all Speedweeks stuff and (the Clash) out West, which was interesting. I thought Daytona was kind of a typical (superspeedway) race. There was not a lot that was a ton different, the same guys seem to be good at it. The Fords were strong. And there didn’t seem to be a ton of problems with the new (Next Gen) car, which was good. I thought it was an exciting race, definitely a good ending. It was cool to see Austin Cindric get his first win, and (to) have it come in the Daytona 500 was pretty crazy. I thought it was a great weekend with a lot of enthusiasm, obviously, around the race and having a packed house again. A lot of positives.
Kenseth at Martinsville in 2018. (Peter Casey / USA Today)
When you retired from racing, was the possibility of going into TV on your radar and something that you wanted to pursue?
Absolutely not. (Laughs) So, I never really officially retired. Everyone always says, “Matt, come out of retirement again.” But I’ve never really officially retired. I would if we had pensions or something like the NFL.
To answer your question, no, I never really did. I actually had a running joke with some of my crew guys whenever we’d see a different driver on TV and they’d ask if I’d ever do TV and I’d tell them, “If you see me on TV, it only means one thing: I’m broke.” So I am expecting to hear from some of them about this. (Laughs)
I never really had TV on my radar. I never thought I’d have the opportunity, nor really thought I would want to try it. But the timing of this was good, and I thought it was an interesting opportunity. I really, really like Clint. He does a really good job and obviously brings a lot of color to the telecast. Mike Joy is awesome. He’s obviously a TV legend that’s been doing it forever and certainly makes the whole broadcast flow. I thought with those two guys up there, you couldn’t really pick two better guys to go up there (with) and try to do a race for the first time because they’re so different, but they’re both so good at their jobs. I felt like it would make everything flow a little better, maybe make it a little bit easier for me.
I just thought it was an interesting opportunity and that it might be fun to go back to the racetrack and kind of get a different perspective and see how it goes.
When you’ve been watching the races on TV these past couple of weeks, have you been watching with a different perspective knowing you’d soon be in the broadcast booth yourself?
I definitely watched the last couple of weeks differently than I would have watched races in the past just because I know I’ll be up there doing some of the talking and analyzing and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, I didn’t really want to get into, like, “Oh, you got to be careful not to say this,” or “Yeah, you should say that,” or “You really need to do this.” It was more just kind of observing. I think it’s important to be yourself, and I think it has to be natural. I think if it’s not natural, it’s not going to sound good to anybody and it’s not going to make any sense coming out of my mouth. So, I don’t really watch it and try to model myself off of maybe another driver or announcer. I think you need to be yourself, but certainly, I’ve been paying attention to how things flow and what and when and like all that kind of stuff that maybe I didn’t really pay attention to as I did before.
Before Sunday, will you get a chance to be in the booth and get acclimated to what it’s going to be like?
No, but I did talk to Clint on the phone an hour ago. I’m going to go out on Saturday and join him for (Cup) practice and qualifying, so I’m hoping that’ll help a little bit and kind of get me used to things a little bit and kind of figure out what’s going on in the flow of it and that type of thing.
Did Clint offer you any advice for Sunday?
That’s all private conversation. I can’t tell you that. (Laughs)
There has to be some good piece of advice you can share.
Not really anything. We were just kind of talking and joking around.
With Clint being next to you in the booth, are you worried that you might not get a word in edgewise?
No, because that’s OK with me. I figure the less I talk, the more intelligent I’ll probably sound, and that’s fine.
Clint is so good because he’s had some experience now, obviously, but on top of that, he’s a natural. You can watch (announcers) in different sports and it’s easy to tell the difference between fake enthusiasm and real enthusiasm. And Clint is not a guy that puts on a fake smile or puts on being excited for something. You can tell he’s excited. Clint is a guy that is kind of the same in the booth as he is in person and ever since I’ve known him, he’s a guy that says what’s on his mind as soon as it pops into his mind, and there’s not really a filter around it or pause to think about it — it just comes out. And I think that’s honestly great for the viewers because they’re really hearing unfiltered opinions and the view that he has at that moment, and he kind of gives you some extra insight.
Is there anything you’re nervous you may say or do on the air?
You know, I’m honestly pretty nervous about the whole thing. There’s not a thing that I can think of that I’m not very nervous about at the moment.
What is making you nervous?
Just never having done this before. I’d say it’s pretty far out of my comfort zone as the one thing about racing that I never really cared for was the photoshoots, public speaking or being on TV. It was just kind of the part that you had to do to be able to race; racing was the part that I absolutely loved, the rest of it was kind of like the job part. So that being said, it seems kind of odd that I’m doing this. But being a couple years removed from driving, having some time on my hands and talking to Clint about it, I thought it might be fun to try one time.
Any more plans to do any more races as an analyst after Sunday?
No, but I didn’t have any plans for this either. We’ll just kind of see how this goes this weekend and go from there.
Watching races, whether you’re growing up or before you got into the Cup Series, was there a favorite analyst you had?
Oof, that’s a good question. Man, that’s a really good question. I always like listening to Mike Joy. I kind of liked listening to Chris Economaki for different reasons.
What was it about listening to Chris that stood out?
Just being a kid, and he said certain things that were kind of funny. I remember him walking down pit road before the Busch Clash (at Daytona) and interviewing the drivers one at a time. I just remember that because I was in Wisconsin and there was snow on the ground, and it was cool to watch him being part of the CBS broadcast.
What’s next for you after Sunday? You got any racing on your schedule that you’ll be doing besides the Boston Marathon in April?
I’m not sure. I may run a few races this summer, maybe a couple of Super Late Model races up in Wisconsin or maybe a couple SRX races or something; I haven’t really 100 percent committed or decided to do much there yet but might do a few races this summer.
You mentioned SRX.
Is that something that we could see you in this year?
Possibly. I was going to do some last year, but we were trying to do a family vacation with the kids in the summer and use up all the month of June, and that would’ve been hard to do the whole (SRX) season since they started in June. So possibly. It looked fun.
Your former teammate Greg Biffle was back racing at Daytona after being out since 2016. Did seeing him out there give you any consideration to returning to the Cup Series?
No, I think I’m good. I think 2020 was all the confirmation I needed that my racing days at that level are behind me. So, no, I’m good. I don’t have the urge to get back in those cars.