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May 7, 2020

Looking back to look forward: Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman at Darlington Raceway

Ryan Newman Matt Kenseth
Sarah Glenn
Getty Images

Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman are both making their NASCAR Cup Series returns, and the reasons behind each of the comebacks couldn’t be more different.

On one hand, Kenseth is coming out of retirement. Chip Ganassi Racing asked the 2003 champion to take over the No. 42 Chevrolet for the remainder of the season. Kyle Larson was dismissed by the team after his use of a racial slur during an iRacing event April 12.

On the other, Newman is bouncing back from a serious injury after the driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was involved in a scary last-lap wreck in the season-opening Daytona 500. He was sidelined for three races with Ross Chastain filling in as the substitute.

RELATED: NASCAR grants Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman playoff waivers

Now that that’s settled, on to the competition aspect.

On May 17, Darlington Raceway will host NASCAR’s first race back since the COVID-19 outbreak paused the 2020 schedule (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). And here’s the best part: Kenseth won the last Cup Series event the South Carolina track hosted in the month of May. It was the 2013 Southern 500. Five of Darlington’s six premier races since then have been in September for Labor Day weekend; the other took place in April.

That was Kenseth’s only win at Darlington throughout his 18-year full-time career, which spanned from 2000-17. He took his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to Victory Lane after leading 17 of the 367 laps and beating Denny Hamlin to the finish line by 3.115 seconds.

RELATED: History of springtime racing at Darlington Raceway

Newman, meanwhile, has never finished first in 21 Darlington starts. In the 2002 Southern 500, he did come runner-up to Jeff Gordon. Newman was 1.734 seconds short of the checkered flag.

Win totals aside, though, Newman has a stronger all-around record at the 1.336-mile track. His average start (10.6) and finish (12.6) are better than Kenseth’s (19.7 and 15.8, respectively). Newman also has more top fives (seven; Kenseth: three), top 10s (13; Kenseth: 12) and laps led (334; Kenseth: 193).

Other variables to consider are seat time and overall experience. Newman was in a race car more recently than Kenseth, whose last competitive event was in November of 2018. Kenseth has a championship title (2003) to his name, while Newman does not.

There’s really no reason to pin these two drivers against each other than to see who has the superior NASCAR homecoming.

RELATED: Kenseth’s Darlington stats | Newman’s Darlington finishes

25 Starts 21
1 Wins 0
3 Top-five finishes 7
12 Top-10 finishes 13
1 Poles 1
19.7 Average start 10.6
15.8 Average finish 12.6
193 Laps led 334
97.4% (8,455/8,683) Laps completed 98.4% (7,377/7,499)

NASCAR ON YOUTUBE: See all of Ryan Newman’s poles