For Matt Kenseth, "racing truly is a family sport." He said as much last Friday night during his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Cambridge, Wisconsin native no doubt earned his place alongside NASCAR's biggest legends. He spent 18 seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series, earning 39 wins, 331 top-10 finishes, and the 2003 Cup title. Yet, Kenseth's love for racing started when he was just a kid.
"My first memories of racing are my dad taking me to watch his brothers racing stock cars at Jefferson Speedway," said Kenseth, who was inducted into the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame class along with Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine. "He'd head to the pits, and I'd sit up on the hill with my aunts, grandparents, and cousins. I quickly learned that I was more obsessed with the cars themselves than watching them compete. When we weren't at the racetrack, I'd always be bugging my dad, asking him if we could stop by Uncle Gary's house to watch him work on his car. We spent a lot of days out there working on race cars, storytelling, laughing, and just spending time together."
Kenseth has certainly come a long way from racing at Madison International Speedway when he was just 16. Currently ranked 21st on NASCAR's career wins list, he won the biggest races in the sport during his full-time career: the All-Star Race (2004), the Coca-Cola 600 (2000), the Daytona 500 (2009 and 2012), and the Southern 500 (2013). One year after his Cup title win, Kenseth showed his versatility as a racer by winning the 2004 IROC championship. Now 50 years old, Kenseth is still competing, having recently run three races in Tony Stewart's Superstar Racing Experience in 2022. It's just another rung in his ladder-like racing career.
"I always looked at my career as a ladder — you always start at the bottom and you hope to climb your way to the top," Kenseth said. "My ladder has hundreds and hundreds of rungs on it. And without any of them, bottom, middle or top - no matter how you fit in my life — I wouldn't be here without any of you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you all."
WATCH: Matt Kenseth's NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Speech
Kenseth's dedication to the sport of auto racing earned him several friends along the way, namely seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and 2014 Cup champ Kevin Harvick.
"There was always just a deep level of trust that we're going to give 100 percent, not step over the line, not clean each other out," Johnson told the Associated Press ahead of Kenseth's induction. "As a competitor, he was one of the few that I knew we'd race hard but we wouldn't cross the line."
"I absolutely call him a friend His family, his kids are close to my kids, our wives are close, like we've really become friends and I am so thankful for it."
Harvick added, "If you did him wrong, he was going to give back exactly what he got."
"As you look back at Matt, he was one of the rare few that would always just figure it out and find his way to the front by the time that the race was over. He's a great hardcore good racer and I always respected him."
MORE: Kirk Shelmerdine, NASCAR Hall of Famer and Dale Earnhardt's Crew Chief, Talks About What Made "The Intimidator" a Legend
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