Matt Kenseth No. 17 DeWalt Tools Chevrolet By Brett Borden DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 23, 1999) Some say Matt Kenseth "arrived" in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 1998, when he won three races, had 17 top-five finishes in 31...
Matt Kenseth No. 17 DeWalt Tools Chevrolet By Brett Borden
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 23, 1999) Some say Matt Kenseth "arrived" in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 1998, when he won three races, had 17 top-five finishes in 31 starts and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the series point chase.
But many believe that the native of Madison, Wis., will not have arrived until he wins his first championship, something he is focused on intently this season.
Kenseth is off to a good start. He's two-for-two in top-five finishes. A fourth-place finish in the season-opening NAPA Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway was followed up by a third last Sunday in the ALLTEL 200 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. That's good enough to earn him second place in the series points standings, a scant 10 points behind two-time series champion Randy LaJoie.
Kenseth said Tuesday that he is pleased with his start, even though he hasn't reached Victory Lane yet.
"At Daytona I didn't feel like we had a fast enough car, even though we finished well," he said. "At Rockingham we led a lot of laps, just not the important one. Last year we didn't lead any except for the one at the end, which was cool."
Kenseth is quickly picking up a reputation as a cool customer, belying his 26 years. He was consistent last year, finishing eighth or better in 23 of the 31 races on the schedule. He says those eight races that got away did not "lose" him the championship.
"I think Dale Jr. won it," Kenseth said. "We all had some problems here and there. You always do. Dale won seven races, led a bunch more laps than we did and had more poles. I think that's who deserves to win the championship -- the person who performs the best. He ran a little bit better than we did."
So with both drivers coming back to face each other in the 1999 season, Kenseth knew he was going to have to improve to knock "Little E" out of the championship seat.
"You always hope to get a little bit better," Kenseth said. "I guess the biggest thing for us is the team is more experienced as a group. We're going back to these tracks with notes. (Last year) was our first full year. We've been through the thing now. Dale Jr. has the same amount of experience I do. But his team's been around 15 years or so."
Kenseth hopes to be around the NASCAR Busch Series for one more year, then it's on to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. He will take crew chief and team owner Robbie Reiser with him, in some sort of program affiliated with NASCAR team-owning "baron" Jack Roush. Kenseth says competing with a handful of NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers in events like this season's first two NASCAR Busch Series races gives him valuable experience against his future fender-bangers.
"It raises my level of competition, I think," he said. "If the NASCAR Winston Cup guys didn't come race with us, I would have won a bunch more races than I won. The more you can race against those guys, the better off you will be. I want to compete against those guys on Sunday soon."
But before that time, he has a championship in his sights. The next step in his march for a title is the Sam's Town 300 March 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's a track where all five of Jack Roush's NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams finished in the top-10 in last year's Las Vegas 400.
"I'm looking forward to getting there," Kenseth said. "I feel like our program's a little bit better than last year. We should run a little bit better all year hopefully."
Source: NASCAR Online