Matt Kenseth has literally grown up in front of the NASCAR world, moving from a stunning NASCAR debut to giving veteran team owner Jack Roush his first Cup championship.
Kenseth, now a father of three, has found success in Cup, Nationwide and the International Race of Champions series over the years. He’s amassed a title and numerous wins. Along the way, he’s proven to be one of the most even-keeled racers in the sport, even when confronted by a teammate or another competitor.
Here’s a look at Kenseth’s top-10 career accomplishments:
Made Cup debut in 1998, driving for Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott (pictured in his car) had to miss the second race at Dover International Speedway, so Kenseth was called in to take the ride. He did so in strong fashion, finishing sixth in his Cup debut to show the promise and potential his Cup career would offer. Still, it would be another couple of seasons before he would make a full-time career out of Cup racing.
Finished a career-best second in the Nationwide standings in 1998: Kenseth was preparing to move into the Cup ranks shortly - and actually made his debut start that season - but was focused on his Nationwide run. He earned three wins in a season in which he earned 23 top-10 finishes, 17 of them top-fives, and posted an average finish of 9.6. He finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 48 points in the championship race.
Catch me if you can
Led points for record 33 weeks in 2003: Kenseth shook off the setbacks of the previous season and hit his stride in 2003. He won at Las Vegas, the season’s third race, and showed his consistent strength in earning 25 top-10 finishes. He avoided most of the pratfalls the season can offer and incurred only two DNFs. He led the points for an amazing 33 weeks to take the Cup title.
Won five races during 2002 campaign: Kenseth was on a hot streak in 2002, earning a career-best five Cup wins that season. While he was a perennial frontrunner that season, setbacks forced him to have three DNFs and to settle for eighth in the season standings.
Victory Lane regular
Has total of 50 career NASCAR wins: Kenseth has consistently worked his way to the front in races, showing both the strength of his Roush Fenway Racing team and the talent he brings to the sport. He is a tenacious competitor who generally finds a way to be running at the end of the race and has the ability to reel off multiple wins when he hits his stride. He has earned 24 career Cup victories and 26 wins in the Nationwide Series.
Has won at least one race in seven straight Nationwide seasons: Kenseth raced full time in the series until 2000, though he continued to compete in a double-digit number of events for years. His schedule there has been significantly reduced in recent years, but that hasn’t limited his threat to win week to week. Kenseth has won at least one race in the series in each of the last seven seasons, taking multiple victories in four of those. He has seven overall multiple-win Nationwide seasons to his credit and has wins in 12 of the last 14 seasons.
Best of the best
Won 2004 IROC championship: Kenseth had to uncharacteristically rally to take this title. Twelve drivers competed in the series four races that season, with Kenseth starting strong with a third-place run in the opener. But he finished dead last in the next race at Texas Motor Speedway, putting him in a hole. He responded in dominant fashion, winning the final two series races to take the crown by five points over Ryan Newman.
2000 Cup rookie of the year: Kenseth was coming off a pair of seasons in what is now the Nationwide Series in which he finished second and third to champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. The pair faced off once more in the battle for the Cup rookie of the year. Kenseth had run six previous Cup races entering the year. He earned his first series victory in the season’s 12th race, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and went on to garner 11 top-10 finishes, four of them top-fives. He finished 14th in the standings to snare the award.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner: Kenseth had 16 career victories, and a title, to his credit when he headed to Victory Lane in arguably NASCAR’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500. He made the right move at the right time in 2009 to take his first win in the race. He trailed Elliott Sadler with rain threatening the area, working on his bumper until Sadler left a hole on the inside and Kenseth, with a push from Kevin Harvick slipped to the lead. He led one lap before the red flag came out, then the race was eventually called because of rain. Adding to the race’s lore, Kenseth won in a backup car. He won again in 2012, dominating the closing laps and cutting short any potential charge from his challengers in a race that was run on a Monday night and red-flagged for more than two hours.
2003 NASCAR Cup champion: Team owner Jack Roush entered his first Cup race with Mark Martin in 1988, but found a title to be elusive. That changed with Kenseth. The driver turned 31 that season, and rose to the top of the Cup world. He earned one victory, but had 25 top-10 finishes, 11 of them top-fives, with an average finish of 10.2 to take his first title. In addition, he completed 10, 350 of 10,668 possible laps - 97 percent - to maintain a level of consistency that competitors couldn’t match.