Matt Kenseth back to NASCAR as Larson replacement at Ganassi

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FILE - In this July 27, 2019, file photo, Kyle Larson climbs into his car for a practice session for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Long Pond, Pa. Kyle Larson was fired Tuesday, April 14, 2020, by Chip Ganassi Racing, a day after nearly every one of his sponsors dropped the star driver for using a racial slur during a live stream of a virtual race. Larson, in his seventh Cup season with Ganassi and considered the top free agent in NASCAR mere weeks ago, is now stunningly out of a job in what could ultimately be an eight-figure blunder by the star. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth will again come out of retirement to compete for Chip Ganassi Racing as the replacement for fired driver Kyle Larson.

Larson lost his job two weeks ago for using a racial slur while competing in a virtual race. Although Ganassi developement driver Ross Chastain was assumed to be the leading contender to replace Larson in the No. 42 Chevrolet, the team instead announced Monday it will go with the two-time Daytona 500 winner.

“I think Matt gives us the best chance to win, run up front and compete for wins,” Ganassi told The Associated Press. “I’ve always gone with the mantra of trying to take the best driver available, and he’s the best driver available right now. And he brings something to our sponsors that they need right now. Stability. No baggage. Family man. Daytona 500 winner. Championship winner.”

Kenseth is in a class of drivers that includes Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and David Pearson as the only competitors to win a Cup Series championship, rookie of the year award and the Daytona 500.

“This was an unexpected opportunity for sure. I can’t say racing was even on my radar two weeks ago," Kenseth said. “After spending some time thinking about it and all the unique circumstances surrounding all of us right now, it just seemed the timing and the opportunity was perfect to come back.”

Ganassi said the team will petition NASCAR for a waiver to make Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, eligible to race for the title this season. NASCAR completed just four of its 36 races before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ganassi needed a clean start in the No. 42 after nearly every sponsor, including primary backers McDonald’s and Credit One Bank, backed away from Larson. The Japanese-American driver was popular, considered a rising star in the series and about to test free agency before he was fired.

Carl Edwards, a former teammate of Kenseth's at Roush, was also contacted about driving the No. 42 but declined to come out of retirement. As for Chastain, who filled in for Ryan Newman for three races before the season was suspended and has been patiently awaiting a full-time Cup ride, Ganassi said: “We've got plans for him.”