Matt Kenseth (full name Matthew Roy Kenseth) is an American professional stock car racing driver with more than 900 participations in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series events. From 1996 to 2015 he scored 68 NASCAR victories, including two wins at the famous Daytona 500. His biggest achievement was the 2003 Winston Cup championship title.
Matt was born on March 10th, 1972, in Cambridge, Wisconsin. His father Roy bought a race car when Matt was 13. They had an agreement that Matt would work on the car until he was old enough to race. Finally, in 1988, Matt started racing at Madison International Speedway. He scored his first victory in his third event. Matt's first race car was a 1981 Ford Mustang.
Successful runs in various series led to NASCAR Busch Series debut
At the age of 19, Kenseth was racing in the Wisconsin late model ranks. With a win in LaCrosse in 1991, Kenseth set a new record for being the youngest winner in ARTGO Challenge Series history. Kenseth took the Wisconsin racing ranks by storm in the early ’90s, winning races and track titles at venues all across the state; he became the youngest driver ever to win in the prestigious Miller Genuine Draft National Championships in 1994.
He won another Wisconsin track title in 1995, followed by successful runs in the NASCAR All Pro Series (1995) and the Hooters Series (1996). He raced for the engine builder Carl Wegner during 1996, and he got a chance to debut in the Busch Series at the spring race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. After finishing 22nd, Kenseth was disappointed because they were unable to attract major sponsorship.
First full season with Robbie Reiser
At the end of the season, the Wegner/Kenseth team closed and Kenseth found a ride for Gerry Gunderman's team in the ASA Series. The team raced together for two races in 1997 before Kenseth received a fateful telephone call from a former rival and fellow Wisconsin racer Robbie Reiser. Reiser asked Matt to drive for his team in the NASCAR Busch Series, as a replacement for the injured Tim Bender.
Kenseth qualified third for the new team's first race at Nashville Speedway. He was racing in third place in final laps when he spun his Chevrolet and finished eleventh. Kenseth qualified in 20th place for the next race at Talladega, but he passed thirteen cars to finish seventh. Matt participated in 21 races and he had two Top 5 finishes. He was the second best Rookie and 22nd in the overall standings.
Excellent result for Matt at the Winston Cup debut
In 1998, Kenseth raced the full Busch Series season with Reiser's #17 Chevrolet and he finished second in the championship points with three wins. He won his first Busch Series race on February 22, 1998, at Rockingham Speedway. Matt's Winston Cup debut followed in September at Dover, substituting Bill Elliot in the McDonald's #94 Ford. The young Kenseth drove to an impressive sixth-place finish in his first run with NASCAR’s elite.
Kenseth finished third in the Busch series points in 1999, again driving Reiser's #17 Chevrolet. He scored four victories. During 1999, Reiser' team and Kenseth were hired to race with Roush's #17 Ford in five Cup races. Matt was again fantastic at Dover and he finished 4th.
Rookie of the Year in the 2000 Winston Cup season
In 2000, Roush hired the #17 team full-time for Cup Series racing. Kenseth beat out Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Rookie of the Year award. He won his first career Cup race at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and earned four top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. He finished 14th in points at the end of the season.
The team finished strong in 2001, without wins but with three top-five finishes and 13th in the final classification. The No. 17 pit crew set a world record in winning the Unocal 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition, besting 24 other teams for the honor.
In 2002, Kenseth registered a series-best five victories, but inconsistency resulted in him finishing eighth in the final point standings. His wins came at Rockingham, Texas, Michigan, Richmond, and Phoenix. The No. 17 crew won its second straight Unocal 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition with another world record, conducting a full pit stop in 16.81 seconds.
Matt Kenseth took the title with just one win
Five victories in 2002 were enough for 8th place, but just one victory in 2003 was enough to win the Winston Cup title. Matt scored his only win at Las Vegas, but he had 25 Top 10 finishes and earned enough points to celebrate the title with one race remaining.
After the 2003 season, Kenseth's championship title became a source of controversy and criticism. His title was clear, but many criticized the points system and asked how it was possible to win a title with just one victory in 36 races. As a result, 2004 saw the implementation of a new points and playoffs system titled "The Chase for the Nextel Cup". The name was given according to the new primary sponsor of the NASCAR's premium series.
In 2004, Kenseth won the International Race of Champions (IROC) against eleven drivers from five American premier racing series. In the NASCAR Nextel, Cup he finished 8th in the final point standings with two victories at Rockingham and Las Vegas. He also won the All-Star Race.
Runner-up in the 2006 Nextel Cup season
Kenseth started the 2005 season with relatively poor finishes but had a strong mid-season run. He rose from the 24th place in championship points after fourteen races to 8th after 26 races, and he qualified for the Chase for the Cup. He finished 7th in the final points standings with one win coming at Bristol.
Matt won four times in the 2006 Nextel Cup season. He was the winner at California Speedway, Dover, Michigan and Bristol. Kenseth entered the Chase as a leading driver, but lost the title to Jimmie Johnson.
In 2007, Matt won the second round of the season at California Speedway and the last race at Homestead. With two victories, he ended the championship 4th in the points. In 2008, the series was renamed to NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he did not score any wins, Matt finished 11th in the final classifications. His best finish was second at the fall race at Dover.
Lucky win at the rain-shortened Daytona 500
Matt had a fantastic start of the 2009 season with two victories at Daytona and California Speedway. He won the rain-shortened Daytona 500, passing Elliott Sadler a few moments before the caution came out on lap 146 as the result of an accident. The red flag was later waved and race was ended after 152 laps. It was Kenseth's first Daytona 500 victory, and the first Daytona 500 victory for Jack Roush after 20 years as a car owner.
Despite the excellent start of the season, later performance caused Kenseth to miss The Chase for the first time in six years. He finished 14th in the standings.
Kenseth’s 2010 season began with new primary sponsorship from Crown Royal on the #17 Ford. During the season, he changed the crew chief and reunited with Jimmy Fennig. Matt scored two second places at Atlanta and Texas, and without victories, he finished 5th in the championship.
Next year, he moved one step up, finishing fourth in the standings. He earned three wins at Texas, Dover, and Charlotte.
One more Daytona 500 triumph in 2012
The 2012 Sprint Cup season started in winning style: Kenseth dominated Daytona Speedweeks by winning his respective Gatorade Duel qualifying race before earning his second Daytona 500 win. Despite some disappointing finishes in the first half of the season, Kenseth was leading the point standings for six weeks during mid-summer.
He finished in the Victory Lane two more times at Talladega and Kansas. Kenseth ended the year seventh in the point standings as he closed the chapter on his racing career with Roush Fenway Racing.
Seven Sprint Cup wins in the first season with Joe Gibbs Racing
In 2013, Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, replacing Joey Logano in the #20 Toyota. Kenseth and his team showcased their strength on the race track with a series-best seven victories and were competing for the title until the very last race of the season. Out of his seven wins in 2013, four were scored at tracks on which Kenseth had never won before in the Sprint Cup Series (Darlington, Kentucky, Chicago, and New Hampshire).
Jimmie Johnson was just 19 points ahead
Kenseth led the point standings for a total of seven weeks during the season and he entered The Chase as the leader. At the end, Kenseth finished second in the standings, just 19 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
No Sprint Cup victories in the 2014 season
In 2014, The Chase for the Sprint Cup was reformatted. Matt entered The Chase and finished the championship in seventh place without victories in the Sprint Cup. He won the Budweiser Duel in Daytona and the final Nationwide Series race at Homestead.
Kenseth started the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season by winning the Sprint Unlimited for the first time in his career, driving the newly redesigned Toyota Camry. During the Daytona 500, he started and finished 35th after being involved in an accident on lap 41. He ended 51-race winless streak at Bristol. During the season, he won four more times at Pocono, Michigan, Richmond, and New Hampshire.
Controversial clash with Joey Logano
He was eliminated from The Chase after the Talladega race. During the next race, at Martinsville, Kenseth was involved in a crash along with Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. He went down nine laps for repairs and after he came back on to the track, he intentionally wrecked the race leader Joey Logano.
Video : NASCAR drivers Kenseth and Logano crashing at Martinsville Speedway
Kenseth was disqualified and suspended for two races. Kenseth's original explanation was that a tire went down and caused him to crash into Logano, but he later admitted following his suspension that it was deliberate action.
Two wins and fifth place in 2016 season
Matt continued to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, he added two Cup Series wins to his account, at Dover and New Hampshire, finishing fifth in the final standings.
Matt's son Ross, born in 1993, already debuted in the NASCAR national events (Xfinity Series and Truck Series), so the descendant of Kenseth's name is ready to continue the family business.