So many times in this sport when a driver announces that he is leaving his ride at the end of the year to join another team for the following season, his team’s ontrack performance begins to slip. This can’t be said about Roush- Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth, who will be leaving at the end of the year to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.
Kenseth’s win on Sunday at Kansas was his third of the season and the second since the Chase began. He won at Talladega a few weeks ago and actually opened the season by winning the prestigious Daytona 500.
This is the kind of success that Kenseth and owner Jack Roush have shared since the two joined together in 1999 to run five races. He had been running in the Nationwide Series for Robbie Reiser since 1997, but the five-race stint turned into a full-time Cup ride for both Kenseth and his crew chief Reiser in 2000.
The two wasted very little time in proving that Roush had made the right choice in hiring them as they won their first race at Charlotte in May of that year on their way to winning the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. He finished 14th in the final point standings and along the way was able to also pick up 4 wins in the Nationwide Series.
2001 didn’t see a return to victory lane but the pieces continued to come together as the team’s pit crew won what was then the World Pit Crew Competition. On the year Kenseth was able to pick up 4 top-5 and 9 top-10 finishes, enabling him to move up one spot to 13th in the final point standings. All of that showed that the team was continuing to improve but nobody expected what took place the following year.
Kenseth showed the series that he was becoming a threat to win the title in 2002 as he posted five wins on the season along with 19 top-10 finishes. All of that was good enough for him to finish eighth in the final standings.
Kenseth put himself in the record books in 2003 as he became the sport’s final Winston era champion. He only had one win on the season, but posted a career high 25 top-10 finishes on becoming the last champion to be crowned before the Chase format was introduced. He was so consistent in his championship year that he led the point standings for a recordbreaking 34 straight weeks.
He has yet to win that second championship, but he has made every Chase but one. His win on Sunday was the 24th of his career that ties him with the Busch brothers for 26th on the all-time win list.
Event: Tums Fast Relief 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway
526 mile oval, 12 degrees of
Date: Oct. 28, 1:30 p.m.
Deending Champion: Tony