CONCORD, NC (July 3, 2001) - After winning the 2000 Raybestos Rookie of the Year award and the Coca-Cola 600 in just his 18th Winston Cup start, the expectations of Matt Kenseth's 2001 performance were clearly high. Much to everyone's surprise, ...
CONCORD, NC (July 3, 2001) - After winning the 2000 Raybestos Rookie of the Year award and the Coca-Cola 600 in just his 18th Winston Cup start, the expectations of Matt Kenseth's 2001 performance were clearly high. Much to everyone's surprise, mechanical problems and unanticipated tribulations spurred criticism and rumors that seemed to follow the team from track to track like a dark cloud.
Just when it seemed the dreaded 'sophomore slump' may have been the culprit, Kenseth has created a streak of consistent finishes, which has landed him 12th in the point standings. On July 7th the Winston Cup Series will head to Daytona signifying the second half of the season. Going into the 20 - race stretch to the Winston Cup championship, Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 team have expectations of their own.
"We thought we'd be more competitive this year than last year. Instead we had some bad luck and other problems - some of which were out of our control," said Kenseth. "I said at the beginning of the year I don't believe in the 'sophomore slump' and I'm sticking to that. If we could put our finger on the problem, then we'd fix it."
"Every week we work at getting better at qualifying and in race trim. Media and fans may have high expectations of us, but let me tell you - no one is harder on us than we are on ourselves. We're our own worst critics."
"Regarding the rumors, it was like someone had lit a match creating a huge forest fire. It was a little out of control there for a while. I thought it would subside, and then they resurfaced again," stated Kenseth in media conference earlier this year.
Rumors and all, Kenseth has remained focused on the track. Kenseth is as competitive as they come. He does not race for the money or the lavish lifestyle. He races to win, and if he is not in contention for a win - he is not happy.
Kenseth is not exactly thrilled with how this year has panned out so far. His worst finish to date came at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in just the third race of the season. After running in the top five throughout the race and posing as a strong contender for the win, a mechanical failure caused the No. 17 car to catch fire. Kenseth escaped the fiery wreck unscathed, but was relegated to a 37th place finish.
Kenseth and the team left Atlanta at their lowest point of the season -- 29th place in the point standings. It is the teams only DNF thus far in the 2001 season.
Obviously the No. 17 team decided the end result in Atlanta was not acceptable as they since have posted 12 consecutive top-20 finishes. The streak was broken at Sears Point with a 21st place finish. Additionally, Kenseth has completed virtually every lap since then with the exception of just five. The DEWALT Ford led the field during the Las Vegas, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega, California, and Charlotte events. Overall, the best performances year to date for the DEWALT team have come at Martinsville and Pocono with Kenseth grabbing sixth place finishes at both tracks.
Last year Kenseth and the team finished 14th in Winston Cup Series points. The team currently ranks 12th and is focusing on cracking into the top 10.
"With everything that has happened so far this year, whether it be performance related, or putting up with the rumor mill, this team is not giving up. We still unload every week with the purpose of racing to win," explained Kenseth. "We still have a lot to learn and have no intentions of giving up on the chance to finish in the top 10 in points."
Crew chief Robbie Reiser added, "Our chances of running for a championship this year are gone, but we are still in the game here. Someday we will run for a championship when we get our program together. We're still pretty young. I tell my guys every week it's all about 'no mistake racing'. We hope to be much better the second half of the season and be in that top five or top 10 every week."
Although the team may not have met their performance expectations on the track, their sponsor, DEWALT would describe it as outstanding. New marketing partnerships with AT&T Broadband and a successful 2002 paint scheme contest has allowed DEWALT Industrial Tools sales and marketing programs to flourish.
"We're enjoying one of our best seasons ever," stated Jon Howland, Motorsports Manager for DEWALT Industrial Tools. "The goal of our racing program is to sell tools, and what better way to do that than to appeal to the race fans who use tools. There is a lot of excitement involved with our program right now and we plan to continue that in the