BUSCH: Charlotte Matt Kenseth Preview

Charlotte's a microcosm for Kenseth CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 29, 1998) A quick look at Matt Kenseth's four-race career record at Charlotte Motor Speedway, heading into Saturday's All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300, is all it takes to conclude that he is...

Charlotte's a microcosm for Kenseth

CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 29, 1998) A quick look at Matt Kenseth's four-race career record at Charlotte Motor Speedway, heading into Saturday's All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300, is all it takes to conclude that he is a markedly talented young racer who has climbed to the top of his game at a remarkable pace.

Only four races ago -- in May of 1996 -- the Cambridge, Wis., native could be found on the outskirts of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division garage area toiling on a stark, white Chevrolet that carried only No. 55. Perhaps the only thing as unadorned as the race car was his driver's uniform.

During the period since, Kenseth has come from a virtual unknown to a driver now featured prominently in speedway promoter H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler's race advertisements. If the 26-year-old rising star continues the level of progress he has forged in each prior CMS race, Kenseth could find himself holding the winner's trophy this Saturday afternoon..

"The key to it all is getting hooked up with a great racing team and I've been fortunate enough to do that," said Kenseth of his Reiser Enterprises team. "Robbie (Reiser) has put together a strong foundation here. Compared to the other teams out there, we may be small in number but we're big at heart."

Kenseth and his Lycos Chevrolet team enter Saturday's All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300 seeking to score their first win on the 1.5-mile speedway and close the 97-point gap to NASCAR Busch Series point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. Young Earnhardt currently leads Kenseth 3,766 to 3,669 with Charlotte and four more races remaining on the schedule.

With their three wins this season and current second-place position in the points, the Kenseth/Reiser combination now is considered a victory contender in every race and a legitimate championship threat. Add the fact that the "Wisconsin Wonders" have a major sponsorship announcement today, for another run at the NBS title next season, and one must concede that their meteoric rise to the top in the sport is both impressive and promising.

Kenseth's competitive climb at Charlotte reached a new height in May's Carquest Auto Parts 300. After starting fifth and running among the leaders in the early going, he was involved in a lap 57 altercation that bashed-in the front of his Lycos Chevy. Superb pit work by his Reiser Enterprises crew, coupled with Kenseth's great driving skill, culminated in a surprising fifth-place finish. Most impressive was the fact that the team was the highest-finishing regular NASCAR Busch Series unit and Kenseth was the only driver among the top-six who was not a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup competitor.

"We have gotten better and better in each race at Charlotte," said Kenseth, who finished 22nd and 12th in the Busch races at CMS last season, and who was 31st in his debut, the Red Dog 300 in 1996. "That's pretty much like our team has done everywhere we go. The race back in May at Charlotte really showed what a great job our crew does. We got caught up in that early crash and messed up the front end of the car.

"Robbie and the guys worked on it and got it to where we were able to get us a fifth-place finish out of it. It was mangled and there was tape all over the front of the car, but we still got us a good finish."

In Kenseth's NASCAR Busch Series debut back in the May 1996 race, he drove Carl Wegner's Chevrolet, which he had leased from Bobby Dotter, from a 37th-place start to a 31st-place finish. He completed 194 of the 200 laps.

"We came in there without a sponsor and just on a shoestring budget," Kenseth said. "I was racing for Carl full-time on the old Hooters circuit and we were hoping to eventually grow into running NASCAR. So this was a test for us. We had to run the Friday last-chance race to get into the field for Saturday's race.

"We finished fifth against guys like Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte and Ward Burton. There were several big-sponsored teams that didn't make the 300 that year. We did the best we could with what we had. Carl Wegner is a guy that I'll always owe a lot to. He was responsible for giving me my first chance to move down here and race. We just never could get all the support we needed to make everything happen."

Since joining Reiser, Kenseth has gone on to post three wins, 15 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 finishes in 47 races.

"We've been able to grow together well and enjoy some success pretty fast," said Reiser about his teaming up with Kenseth. "We're competitive most everywhere we go and what thrills us most of all is that we feel that we're only going to get stronger and better in the future. We have a great team going here."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Ward Burton , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Joe Nemechek , Bobby Dotter