My stories focus on the young drivers of NASCAR. Youth is most often defined by the number of years you have been on this earth. In today’s world, by age 30, you can be viewed as having reached a peak in life. By age 40 you are seen as being over the hill.
There is one driver in NASCAR today who seems to have found a way to begin the climb all over again. Driving a race car, especially at the top levels of the sport takes a great deal of skill, physical strength and exuberance. Many drivers will begin thinking of retirement by the time they reach their early 40s.
When Matt Kenseth announced that he was leaving Roush-Fenway Racing, the team that had been his home since he began driving, there were lots of questions. Becoming teammates with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt was viewed as the veteran. Taking the wheel of the #20 vacated by the much younger Joey Logano, it was expected that he would bring the team back to a level not seen since Tony Stewart had left to become an owner/driver.
Matt Kenseth began his Sprint Cup career at the same time as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Although Matt earned more wins than Dale Jr. over the next decade of driving, he was never the one voted most popular driver. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to work to stay out of the spotlight, Matt Kenseth could enter a room and find his way into the corner without being noticed.
Several years ago, as a winner of a local radio contest, my husband and I had the opportunity to spend the day with Matt Kenseth. I had followed his career closely and I knew that he was not only a champion but a really, real person. I was still surprised at how easily he blended into the crowd. Very few people paid any attention to him as he walked through the theme park, drove the go-karts and later signed autographs. He seemed to be just another guy.
Watching Matt Kenseth develop under the guidance of Joe Gibbs has been nothing short of a miracle. I believe that being associated with a man of faith, like Joe Gibbs has awaken something in Matt that has taken even him by surprise. He seems to have a different aura about him. He almost seems to have turned back the hands of time.
He looks younger, happier, more relaxed. He seems to have come out of his shell and he no longer appears to be uncomfortable doing interviews or interacting with fans. He has grown as a driver, having the most wins of anyone this season.
Even in his family life, he appears to have started over. Matt had a son when he was very young. Ross is now 20 years old and is working on his own driving career. Matt and Katie Kenseth are the proud parents of 2 beautiful little girls ages 2 and 4. His family is always with him at the track and he truly seems to enjoy having them there to celebrate his wins.
Matt Kenseth at age 41 is proving that age is just a number and there is no way to predict what might happen when you put yourself out there. Matt had a home with Jack Roush, he had won a championship, he was seen as a leader at Roush-Fenway. He probably could have made his home there for as long as he wanted. Instead, he took a leap of faith.