Kenseth receives accolades at champion banquet

Matt Kenseth received the final "Winston Cup Champion" title last night at a star-studded affair at New York's Waldorf-Astoria. An impending blizzard hammered the city with heavy snow, but did not hamper NASCAR ushering in their 2003 champion and ushering out RJR as the series title sponsor.

The annual NASCAR banquet kicked off with an eloquent commentary by Kiefer Sutherland, star of FOX's award-winning "24", and was filled out by musical performances by LeAnn Rimes and Harry Connick, Jr.

Jack Roush, Matt Kenseth and the rest of the DeWalt Championship team pose in a snow storm around the car prior to the start of the Banquet.
Photo by Autostock.
The event was the 33rd awards ceremony with the Winston brand as primary sponsor, next year Nextel takes over hosting rights as the series becomes the Nextel Cup. All speakers that graced the stage at the Waldorf noted their appreciation for RJR's involvement in the sport.

No one was more thankful than the new champ as RJR presented Matt Kenseth with a check for $5.1 million dollars

"To Winston and R.J. Reynolds," said Kenseth. "I'm really proud to be your final Winston Cup Champion. You have certainly made memories for many people; I wish you the best."

Kenseth won just one race in 2003, at Las Vegas, but garnered a series-high 25 top ten finishes.

"I think you all know by now that I prefer race car driving over speech making, but NASCAR didn't give me that option tonight," said Kenseth. "I'm proud to be part of NASCAR and proud for the opportunity to represent the sport as its champion."

Matt Kenseth the 2004 Winston Cup Series champion.
Photo by Autostock.
The rest of the NASCAR top ten was also honored, bestowed with championship trophies and awarded checks. The remainder of the top nine was Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte.

In addition, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s No. 8 Chevy team was named McDonalds Pit Crew of the Year and awarded $200,000. Rookie of the year, Jamie McMurray was also noted, and presented with a check for $50,000.

Dr. Dean Sicking, the inventor of the SAFER wall barriers, was given the Bill France Award of Excellence. The award, which is not given every year, is presented to individuals who have made significant accomplishments in NASCAR racing.

View pictures from the event.