Matt Kenseth on racing against Jimmie Johnson: ‘It sucked’

That is the fifth story in a sequence that displays Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR success from those that competed in opposition to or with him at Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson is again within the trade as a Petty GMS stakeholder and can run choose races in 2023.

The query is easy: what was the expertise like competing in opposition to Jimmie Johnson?

The reply is the essence of Matt Kenseth.

“It sucked for me to race in opposition to him, as a result of I received hit a lot,” Kenseth says, then with amusing. “I take into consideration a whole lot of completely different instances and races the place I assumed I used to be going to be out entrance and I did not. Even in 2013 with the championship. We win the primary two (qualifying) races, he comes again and he wins the third. We ran rather well, he nonetheless will get forward and wins the factor.”

One race specifically stays with Kenseth all these subsequent years. Whereas Kenseth cannot keep in mind the 12 months, it should come to thoughts for individuals who watched the 2007 fall race at Texas Motor Speedway when Kenseth begins calling occasions.

“I used to be main the race and it was close to the top of the race, and he received second, and he was catching me actually quick,” says Kenseth. “He would have surrounded me and gained, in all probability. We had been higher within the brief run, and he was higher in the long term. I am unable to keep in mind the precise level place besides he did not must win – he had lead within the championship race.

So, I feel to myself, ‘Okay, he is not going to place himself able to break down in second place. He is nonetheless more likely to win the championship with out catastrophe, however he is not going to get there and lose.”

Kenseth took the lead from Ryan Newman on the restart with 29 laps to go, whereas Johnson completed fifth. The hunt was on with lower than 20 laps to go as Johnson started closing in on Kenseth and looking for a solution to transfer ahead. Even the telecast crew on the time, ESPN’s Andy Petrie, Rusty Wallace and Jerry Bunch, stated Johnson did not must do something to get himself into bother by preventing Kenseth.

However this didn’t occur. Kenseth battled on the outdated tyres, with Johnson on the brand new tyres. Kenseth ran excessive whereas Johnson tried a landing. Roll after lap, the 2 went at it, placing collectively a number of the greatest races the sequence had seen.

Johnson didn’t You’ve got To beat Kenseth of Texas in 2007…however that did not cease an epic duel between the 2. Leslie Ann Miller/Motorsports Footage

“He was underneath me and I walked as much as his door and made it as arduous as I might and received by way of it directly,” Kenseth recalled. “He received underneath me (once more), I received him as shut as I might to get him the place his automotive is as unfastened as doable, and I am like, ‘He is not going to take an opportunity on destroying each of us, he is simply going to again this factor up and end second.'”

“Man, we raced alongside and his guts rushed out. Most individuals wouldn’t have had that go. Most individuals would both have bumped themselves or smashed each of us and didn’t (work). It exhibits not solely how sensible he’s, however how a lot He is a fierce competitor. If he had an opportunity to win a race, he did not care that he did not want it or not, there wasn’t a race he did not wish to win. He was so good that individuals type of took benefit of him, and in that case, I would not race Anybody else like this; I might have given them extra leeway as a result of I do know anybody else would have damaged each of us.

“However being him, I’m like, ‘Okay, he’s going to maintain controlling his automotive and he’s not going to crash however he’s not going to have the ability to do it and stand by me. So, it is going to in all probability decelerate a bit and end second. I needed to make it as troublesome as I might. and he nonetheless He got here out on high. That is the one end of the race that I at all times consider after I take into consideration how nice it actually was.”

Johnson cleared Kenseth out of flip 2 with two laps to go. It was his third straight win within the playoffs as he walked to his second straight championship.

In making an attempt to know what made Johnson one of many best NASCAR drivers of all time, Kenseth echoed the emotions of many as Johnson took benefit of his state of affairs. Hendrick Motorsports had nice gear, and the Johnson Racing Workforce was particular. It was additionally a racing crew that hasn’t modified a lot over time.

Even nonetheless, Kenseth would not take something away from how fierce Johnson is as a competitor. As Kenseth confirmed in Texas, Johnson might drive the automotive on edge or higher than anybody else. It doesn’t matter what, it at all times appeared like Johnson might come alongside in a time of disaster.

“To be the very best, you need to beat the very best, so I at all times needed to beat him,” says Kenseth. “If you do not have him, there’ll at all times be another person, however positive, I look again and (I feel) I will have one other championship, possibly two, with out him. And possibly extra wins.”

Whereas he felt that he not often received the very best of Johnson, Kenseth felt that he was higher as a result of he had the possibility to go in opposition to him. Motorsport Footage

“He undoubtedly made everybody higher. I loved racing with him. Greater than something, I loved attending to know him as a person and for the final 4 or 5 years of our careers on the street, driving bikes collectively and speaking about life and changing into greatest buddies. That is undoubtedly my favourite half But it surely was an incredible race with him.”

Kenseth’s solely championship got here in 2003. Johnson completed second that season.

Johnson’s first title got here in 2006, and Kenseth completed second within the standings. Kenseth additionally completed second in Johnson’s championship season in 2013.

In head-to-head race wins, Johnson beat Kenseth 5 instances (Charlotte 2003; Las Vegas 2006; Indianapolis 2006; Texas 2007; Charlotte 2016). Kenseth took the very best of Johnson twice (Fontana 2006; Bristol 2015).

When discussing his as soon as good friend and rival, Kenseth additionally praised Johnson’s capability to adapt to any state of affairs seamlessly. Kenseth stated Johnson is straightforward to speak to, whether or not on the racetrack or on a three-hour bike trip. Remembers individuals’s names and matches into the racetrack or boardroom.

With Johnson returning to compete on a restricted foundation this season, Kenseth will not be competing in opposition to him, having left the sequence after 2020. However Kenseth is not somebody who wants a reminder of how good Johnson is and the way unbelievable his accomplishments have been.

“I lived it,” says Kenseth. “I’ve thought (about Johnson) for years and years and years and years and like I stated, sadly I have been on the shedding facet that far more instances than I have been on the successful facet. I do not know if I’ve ever been on the successful facet.”

“If you’ve been away from the game for some time, you undoubtedly are likely to suppose extra concerning the previous, and after I consider completely different racing tales, he is undoubtedly concerned in a whole lot of them.”

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