CONCORD, N.C. – Matt Kenseth and Charlotte Motor Speedway share quite the past.
After all, the 1.5-mile track is where Kenseth became a star. He won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte – the 2000 Coca-Cola 600, which put him on the map for good.
He was a rookie making only his 18th Cup start when he took the checkered flag after fending off Jerry Nadeau, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Thirty wins and a Sprint Cup championship later, Charlotte is still one of Kenseth’s favorite tracks, but not just because he’s a past winner.
“I made my first Nationwide start here as well,” Kenseth said, “so I probably have more miles and laps here than probably any other track on the circuit.”
Kenseth, the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Toyota, enters this year’s Coca-Cola 600 with no wins this season.
A victory in the sport’s longest race would give him a boost toward a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth. It would also mark the third victory of his career at Charlotte. Kesneth won the Bank of America 500 in 2011.
The Cambridge, Wisc. native has seen Charlotte undergo changes since his first start at the track, the 1996 Red Dog 300 Nationwide Series race.
“I’ve always really enjoyed it, especially before the repave (in 2006),” Kenseth said. “It always had a lot of character and it’s really slick with a lot of bumps. (The racing surface) is getting back to starting to be like that again right now.”
Kenseth finished third in the Sprint All-Star Race on May 17. He said his Joe Gibbs Racing team needed just a bit more speed to take the All-Star Race’s $1 million prize.
Kenseth hopes he’ll end up two positions better when the May 25 running of the Coca-Cola 600 ends at what is Kenseth’s adopted home track.
“I’ve always really enjoyed the track, it’s a fun track and we’ve had some good races here,” said Kenseth, a Mooresville, N.C. resident.
“I’ve had some bad ones as well here, but it’s one of my favorite tracks, and I like it.”