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Ross Kenseth, Carswell Motorsports Rejoin Forces at Pensacola

It’s the second time the second generation racer has driven the No. 98

He’s back and they’re back too.

And for the first time in six years, they’re back together.

Ross Kenseth has teamed with Carswell Motorsports for the four Southern Super Series races at Five Flags Speedway this summer with the intent of entering the Snowball Derby together in December.

For team owner Jake Carswell, it’s his second attempt at returning to short track racing following an aborted return that began with Cole Williams at the 2019 All-American 400 which was halted as a result of COVID-19.

Carswell is the promoter of the wildly successful Winter Jam contemporary rock concert tour, and also a founding member of the band Newsong, and managing the shifting schedules resulting from the pandemic kept him away from the discipline in 2020.

If all goes well this year, Carswell hopes this return is for real.

“Well, I don’t know if we’re back like we were in the 2000s and 2010s, but we want to ease back into it,” Carswell said. “The car is pretty much brand new, just that one race on it, and that was supposed to be the launching pad to get back into it.

“Then COVID hit and the business got hit hard like many industries, and that took a toll and we battened down the hatches for like a year, but things are starting to get back to normal so here we are.”

Winter Jam was postponed to this spring and had 75 percent capacity and should be back to 100 percent this winter. That’s allowed the Carswells to entertain the idea of returning to active competition, but they needed a driver.

Daniel Hemric captured the 2013 Southern Super Series championship and a dozen wins with the team from 2012-2014. Hemric, of course, remains a full-time NASCAR regular these days and isn’t available so Carswell turned to another familiar face in Ross Kenseth.

The second-generation racer made several starts for the team in 2015 before taking a five year hiatus from the sport that ended last year when he competed in the Blizzard Series events in the Jim Webber owned No. 3.

Kenseth now lives in Defuniak Springs, Florida just an hour from the Carswells in Panama City Beach and it was just a natural reunion.

“Jake did most of the work on it,” Kenseth said. “They did all the prep to come here. I was able to talk (crew chief) Troy Smith into coming down. He’s helped me a lot in the past, and he’s been with Donnie (Wislon) for a long time. It’s a good group and we work well together, and we know what we need out of this car. It feels comfortable to me. When everyone gets along well, it tends to work out well.”

The goal is for Kenseth and Carswell to put together four really competent and clean races, build the notebook and have the car ready for the Derby.

With Hemric, Carswell won the 2014 Redbud 300, which came a few years after winning the World Crown 300 with Justin Wakefield, but the No. 98 is still looking for its first Snowball Derby win since 1985 when the blue and white No. 98 was owned and driven by the legendary Jody Ridley.

Ridley sold his equipment to the Carswells and served as crew chief for several years before Hemric came aboard and served both roles.

It’s that level of success Kenseth hopes to match this summer and into the winter.

“It’s a work in progress but we made it better,” Kenseth said of Thursday practice. “They’re short of tires here so we’re limited in that capacity.

“We practiced on a set from 2019, and it’s not even the current compound, so it’s hard to baseline out, but we got in driving good. We got the balance is right and just want to finish the race and see where we’re at so we can come back and make it better.”

And if Kenseth helps make it better, and they have success, Carswell would like to expand his schedule.

“We do miss running with the Southern Super Series,” Carswell said. “We are going to keep working on it and focus on the races close to home for now. Our daughter got married and we had to work hard on keeping Winter Jam in a good place, but I can definitely see us running a lot of the tour races again down the road if things work out.”

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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