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Here's why Matt Kenseth's win at Phoenix brought him closure, pleased so many others

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The love taps on the side of the car, those bumps from behind -- it may not look like it, but those maneuvers are all about respect.

So as Matt Kenseth, who won Sunday's Can-Am 500 race at Phoenix International Speedway, took his victory lap around the track, all those little ticks and hits to his winning No. 20 car weren't disgruntled other drivers. They were, in NASCAR terms, props.

And they continued after Kenseth's spinout (almost certainly the last of his storied NASCAR career), and also after he took the checkered flag in front of hundreds of cheering fans, and even after he got out of his car and walked down pit road to Victory Lane. Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney ... it was a revolving door of congratulatory high-fives or pats on the back.

"It was pretty neat to have a lot of your peers come and congratulate you, and even at the end to be able to drive by all the fans and ... actually hear them yelling over the car and hear them in the window," Kenseth said. "I mean, it was just a really, really special day for a lot of reasons."

But why? Why all the hoopla for a driver who has been out of the playoffs for weeks and who won't race for a championship next Sunday?

It's simple -- it's about Kenseth's legacy. He's 45. He won a Cup Series championship in 2003 and came close to getting another in other seasons. He's consistently in the playoffs and has a shot to win almost every weekend. He hadn't won in his past 51 races.

 

And now his career is over.

Even with this last win on Sunday, Kenseth is through after next weekend at Homestead. He won't return to Joe Gibbs Racing next year and hasn't signed to ride for another team, meaning this is almost definitely the end -- even if he wishes it weren't.

"There's not a lot of people that get to go out like this," Kenseth said. "It's not that there hasn't been any opportunities and nothing opened, it's just nothing really felt right to me.

"I probably fought it for too long and kind of looked at different opportunities and thought about doing something different, but then just really embraced it, and not many people get to go out in really good cars and win races."

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