Sports

NASCAR star is out on a ledge

He may be a die-hard Packers fan, but NASCAR driver and Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth says he feels right at home in the heart of Bears country at Joliet's Chicagoland Speedway.

"Ever since we first came here it seemed like we always got a pretty good fan following that came down to watch us. I always feel like it's somewhat of a home track," the 41-year-old said. "It's the closest racetrack geographically to where I grew up, a couple-hour drive, so it's fun to come back here."

Two years after his Packers dominated in the playoffs in Chicago, Kenseth is hoping to do the same in NASCAR's version.

In his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth enters the Sprint for the Cup as the man to beat when he hits the track for the Geico 400 on Sunday.

"A lot of things changed for me," he said. "It's just been a good year. We've had some pretty fast cars, we've had really great strategy, great pit stops, we've just had the things we've needed to be competitive."

He finds himself peaking at the same time one of his own kids is climbing the racing ladder.

His 20-year-old son, Ross, is an up-and-coming driver in some of the lower-level circuits. Father and son have competed a handful of times over the years.

"We've been on the same track five or six times, raced together," he said. "I always have fun racing him."

Kenseth is quick to remind you that father has known best every time, however.

"My hope is always that he'll beat me," he said. "By the way, he hasn't done it yet either, but that's always my hope."

Despite being a professional driver himself, Kenseth said like most parents, he gets more nervous when his son's behind the wheel than he does before his own races.

"Not because I'm nervous of something happening to him because I know he's got great safety equipment, he's smart and he's a good driver," he said. "Just because you want him to succeed so you get a little bit nervous at times."

In his early 40s, Kenseth said he's not slowing down anytime soon, but does acknowledge his time in racing has an expiration date. Someday.

When asked by a fan on Twitter how much longer he plans on racing, Kenseth said around 15 or 20 more years, something he now says he wasn't serious about.

"I was being sarcastic," he said. "I'm not gonna race 20 more years. It was a joke."

But the racetrack isn't the only place where Kenseth competes.

Kenseth said he's a fantasy football player, though he doesn't devote near as much time to it as your average die-hard.

"It doesn't take that much time," he said. "You go online for an hour a week or something, so it's not that bad."

While he has no problem weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds around a concrete oval at his day job, ask the heights-averse NASCAR driver to step out on the Ledge, a glass enclosure 1,400 feet above Chicago attached to the Willis Tower SkyDeck and, well, he's not so brave anymore.

"I drive on the ground," he said, laughing.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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