Consistent Kenseth claims championship for Roush

Consistent Kenseth claims championship for Roush

It's been a long time coming for Roush Racing. After 16 years and four second place finishes, Jack Roush can finally be called a Winston Cup Championship car owner. Matt Kenseth brought his ...

It's been a long time coming for Roush Racing.

After 16 years and four second place finishes, Jack Roush can finally be called a Winston Cup Championship car owner. Matt Kenseth brought his #17 DeWalt Ford home in fourth place in Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at Rockingham and clinched the 2003 championship.

Matt Kenseth celebrates 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
Photo by Autostock.
Even though Kenseth has been the points leader since the fourth race of the season, the championship wasn't a foregone conclusion in the mind of Roush, who missed the championship with Mark Martin by just 26 points in 1990 and again last year by 38 points.

"I feel great today," Roush said. "Mark and I did this thing together. He found Matt and we worked with Matt together. It's really been tough emotionally to think about the four times we were there with Mark and just coming up short. We've learned to come up short and to be able to get through it this time with Robbie and with Matt. It's just a tremendous relief."

Kenseth put together a remarkably consistent season that included a series-high 25 top-10 finishes. The 2000 rookie of the year also picked up a win at Las Vegas in March.

"I'm just real lucky," Kenseth said. "I'm real lucky that Mark Martin got me hooked up with Jack to start with and got me testing with him. I'm real proud to win it driving a Ford and driving it for Jack."

Martin insisted that Roush sign the Wisconsin native to a development contract after racing with Kenseth at Talladega in 1997.

"I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life and in business but I'm really proud to say that I was right about Matt Kenseth," said Martin, who is listed as the official owner of the #17 team. "Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser are the champions in 2003 because they've made more of the opportunity that was given to them than any of the rest of us have. (Jack) had to endure so much heartbreak and disappointment through the years that I'm just really happy for him. He deserves it and he's earned it."

Jack Roush, Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser.
Photo by Autostock.
There were a few anxious moments during the title chase. The #17 blew an engine at Talladega in September and then crashed and finished 36th in Kansas the following week. It was the first time all season that the team had consecutive finishes outside of the top-10. It gave the other front runners some hope in the previously one-horse championship chase.

"When we came back after the engine problem and the crash that we had - we gave up 200 points or whatever it was in two weeks," Roush said. "Then we had another good race and stabilized, and the race after that we picked up a few points. That's when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. If Matt stayed healthy and if we didn't have an epidemic of broken parts that would get on us early in the race, it was probably going to be OK. But I wouldn't go further than probably."

The magnitude of his accomplishment isn't lost on Kenseth, who is the 26th Winston Cup champion in 55 years and the last under Winston sponsorship. He feels that it was just a matter of time before Roush earned his first championship.

"I'm just so appreciative to my team, my owners, my sponsors, everybody that puts this thing together," Kenseth said. "I never thought I'd ever have the opportunity to sit in one of these cars, much less be the champion. There are thousands of race car drivers out there that I'm sure could do a better job than I have and not many people get this opportunity. I'm just thankful to be in good equipment with good people working on it."

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Series NASCAR-CUP