2008 Ride: No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2008 Primary Sponsor: DeWalt
2008 Owner: John Henry/Jack Roush
2008 Crew Chief: Chip Bolin
Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 9 top fives, 20 top 10s, 11th in points
High Point: After a disappointing start to the season in which Matt Kenseth dropped to 22nd in points after the first 10 races, he and the No. 17 team rallied with eight top 10s in the next nine events. Prior to the impressive stretch, several critics wrote the Wisconsin driver off as a Chase contender; but two months later, Kenseth showed up at the Brickyard the end of July sitting eighth in the season standings. The team rode that momentum to a Chase berth, where they ultimately finished 11th in points.
Low Point: Kenseth bookended his strong middle part of the year by struggling mightily at both the beginning and end of 2008. In his first 10 races, Kenseth finished 30th or worse five times, with just four top 10s. It put the No. 17 team in a massive hole that few thought they could dig themselves out of – until they did.
Then, when Kenseth made the Chase, he was a popular sleeper pick by many who expected him to match the success of Roush Fenway teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. But those predictions proved false right out of the gate when Kenseth crashed out of the Chase opener at New Hampshire. Inconsistent finishes then became the story of his postseason, as Kenseth had three DNFs in the final 10 races to go along with his five top-10 performances.
Summary: Kenseth has 16 wins in 328 starts for Roush Fenway Racing. The bar has been set so high for the No. 17 team, though, that just a Chase berth is considered a disappointment for 2008. Part of the problem was a lengthy adjustment to new crew chief Chip Bolin, promoted from car chief after Robbie Reiser moved into a GM role at Roush Fenway Racing. It was the first major shift atop Kenseth’s pit box in well over a decade, and it took until around Memorial Day Weekend for the two to start clicking on the same page. Through it all, the consistency was still there with 20 top 10s. But Kenseth didn’t run up front as much as usual, as his poor qualifying efforts left him constantly stuck in traffic with a new car that proved difficult to pass with. Add in a few accidents and mechanical failures, and ultimately, he and his team never had a chance at the title this season.
Team Ranking: Third for RFR behind Edwards and Biffle.
2009 Outlook: Expect Kenseth to bounce back in 2009. Despite going winless in 2008, the team assured that he would be a part of their future plans one month ago by resigning the former champion to a multi-year extension. There’s a reason the 36-year-old signed on the dotted line; the Roush Fenway program as a whole progressed this season, and should continue momentum into next year. RFR could realistically have four cars in the Chase this September, and Kenseth certainly has as good of a chance as any of his teammates to wind up the year on top.
Quote of the Year: “I don’t ever expect to win…” – Kenseth on finishing 2008 winless
2006 Frontstretch Grade: A-
2007 Grade: A-
2008 Grade: B