The Frontstretch: Driver Review: Matt Kenseth by Tony Lumbis -- Monday December 17, 2007

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Driver Review: Matt Kenseth

Tony Lumbis · Monday December 17, 2007


Matt Kenseth
2007 Ride: No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford
2007 Primary Sponsor: DeWalt Tools
2007 Owners: Jack Roush and John Henry
2007 Crew Chief: Chip Bolin (Feb. Daytona - March Atlanta following the suspension of Robbie Reiser during Daytona Speedweeks), Robbie Reiser (Remainder of Year)

2007 Stats: 36 starts, 2 Wins, 13 Top 5s, 22 Top 10s, 4th in points.

High Point: Anytime a driver gets a win on the Nextel / Sprint Cup Series, it is considered a large achievement, one that many drivers can only dream about. A victory is extra special for Matt Kenseth, who is known more for his rock solid consistent finishes rather than the dominating double-digit win seasons main rivals Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have put up through the years. So, his two victories at the Auto Club 500 in Fontana and the season finale Ford 400 in Homestead will surely stand out from the rest of the 2003 Champ's accomplishments – especially when one considers who was atop the pit box during those feats.

It was an ominous start for the No. 17 team, as regular crew chief Robbie Reiser – the only one Kenseth has known since 1997 – was suspended for unapproved changes to the body following Daytona 500 qualifying. The team was then forced to dig themselves out of a hole, as Kenseth was relegated to a 27th place finish during the season-opening event due to a last lap crash.

But dig they did. "Second-string" crew chief and longtime Roush Fenway engineer Chip Bolin led the Carhartt / DeWalt Ford Fusion to a dominating victory the very next week in California, setting off a string of seven straight top 11 finishes for the No. 17 team.

Following another competitive season that placed Kenseth in the Chase for the fourth consecutive year, the 2000 Rookie of the Year finished his tenure with Resier in style. Two days after Reiser’s announcement he was taking a new position with Roush Fenway management, the duo decimated the field at Homestead, leading 214 laps en route to Kenseth's 16th career victory – one which extended the Roush Fenway winning streak at the track to four.

Finally, one cannot talk about high points for this Wisconsin native in 2007 without mentioning the resurgent Brett Favre and Kenseth's beloved Green Bay Packers, who captured the NFC North title this December.

Kenseth holds up the trophy following his Homestead win, the last he’ll have with crew chief Robbie Reiser at the helm.

Low Point: Kenseth and company tried to begin the Chase by being… well… “non-Kenseth” like. Usually known for just “hanging around” until the end, Kenseth uncharacteristically kept his Roush Fenway Fusion up front for most of the day during the Chase's second event at Dover. But instead of drinking the sweet taste of champagne, the DeWalt team finished the day in the garage after a late race engine problem left them with a disappointing 35th place finish. It was the same exact result the very next week at Kansas, after a wreck ended the No. 17’s day early; this, despite a front row qualifying effort. A subpar finish at Talladega and yet another wreck in Charlotte left Kenseth mired in 12th spot, with virtually no chance at winning the championship at the Chase’s halfway point.

Adding insult to injury, following the Bank of America 500, the team reeled off five straight Top 5 finishes, leaving the "Killer Bees" wondering what might have been if they only started the Chase as strong as they finished.

Summary: A season like the one Kenseth had in 2007 would be considered a monumental success for most teams in the Nextel Cup garage area; and for the No. 17 team, in many ways it was. However, the stretch of four races in the Chase noted above will haunt them this offseason. If not for that stint of awful luck, this team surely would have had the best chance to challenge the Hendrick stronghold in the 2007 Nextel Cup Championship competition. However, becoming now just one of two drivers (Jimmie Johnson) to make the Chase in each year since its inception, overcoming early season adversity, and racking up enviable stats make for a season that the entire DeWalt team can be proud of.

2008 Outlook: Judging by the trend over the past few years, it is almost a guarantee that Matt Kenseth will enjoy another outstanding year and claim a fifth straight Chase berth in 2008… almost. Remember that the difference this year is that longtime crew chief Robbie Reiser will not be calling this shots, with that honor now going to Chip Bolin. But while the team may need some adjustment time to come up to speed, don't expect the transition period to take long. First, Reiser's influence will still remain in some capacity, as he will now oversee the entire Roush Fenway Organization. Second, with one win already under his belt, Bolin has already demonstrated that he can make the right calls to help Kenseth find Victory Lane. Finally, and most importantly, championship drivers know how to adapt to changes successfully; all that adds up to this 35-year old veteran hardly missing a beat next season.

2006 Grade: A-.
2007 Grade: A-.

Editor's Note : The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close - which means it's time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from A.J. Allmendinger to J.J. Yeley. Want to know when your favorite driver's getting featured? Check out this link for our writing schedule, and be sure to keep coming in every weekday this offseason for even more original content by the Frontstretch!

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