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.
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."
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.