2009 Ride: No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2009 Primary Sponsors: DeWalt Tools, USG, Carhartt, R&L Carriers
2009 Owner: Jack Roush
2009 Crew Chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Stats: 36 starts, 2 wins, 7 top fives, 12 top 10s, 1 pole, 14th in points
Best Finish: 1st, twice (Daytona 500, Fontana – spring)
Average Finish: 15.4
High Point: It’s no problem figuring out what the high point of this season for Matt Kenseth was, especially in a season that didn’t feature much else in the way of high points. In February, Mother Nature conspired with a timely pit stop, putting Kenseth near the front at the Daytona 500. He then passed Elliott Sadler for the lead when the skies opened up on lap 146. Once it was decided that there was no way for the race to resume, Kenseth – and Jack Roush – had won their first Great American Race.
While the exhilaration of being declared the winner of the Daytona 500 may have been the highest point, Kenseth remained undefeated by scoring a win at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana just a week later. The two back-to-back-wins together easily dwarfed a season with surprisingly little else in the way of success for the No. 17 team.
Low Point: You could point to several tough days and call them the low point of Kenseth’s season. There were the blown engines in Las Vegas and Kansas, the Vegas failure coming just six laps into the race. There was the announcement of the departure of DeWalt, the only primary sponsor Kenseth has had for ten seasons.
But for the clear lowest point, you’d have to say the last regular season race at Richmond. Kenseth finished 25th with an ill-handling car, unable to make up poor track position all night and failed to make the Chase he inspired – ruining his streak of qualifying for every previous playoff since the inception of the Chase. Kenseth’s falling short now leaves only Jimmie Johnson as the only driver to accomplish the feat.
Summary: It’s interesting that Kenseth’s average finish (15.4) is only slightly lower than Mark Martin’s (13.2), who was in contention for the championship right up until the last race of the season. That’s the Chase for you. Hopefully, Matt has learned his lesson about winning a championship in a way NASCAR doesn’t like.
But it wouldn’t be fair to say the No. 17 team was really in the league of his former teammate for most of the season. Following the two wins to open the season, Kenseth managed just two top fives – a fifth at Texas and a fourth at Dover – before Richmond. From there, the No. 17 had a few impressive runs, like his runner-up finish at Charlotte… but overall, the team could not seem to put together a string of good finishes throughout the season.
Still, Kenseth’s season in context doesn’t suggest a decline in the 2003 champion’s career. Roush Fenway Racing in general suffered a downturn in success… from Carl Edwards’s failure to get to victory lane to Greg Biffle’s not making much of a dent in the Chase to David Ragan’s worst full season of his career. The whole team needs to get back on track, and it appears that, like several teams, they suffered from the no-testing rule imposed by NASCAR this season.
Team Ranking: Kenseth’s teammates Edwards and Biffle did make the playoffs, only to have little hope of challenging the Hendrick juggernaut. But Kenseth did perform considerably better than his other cohorts at Roush Fenway. Ragan fell victim to the UPS curse to finish 27th in the standings, and Jamie McMurray fared only slightly better, finishing 22nd in points with a win by attrition at Talladega. Kenseth is certainly still an upper-tier driver at Roush Fenway.
2010 Outlook: It’s hard to say whether things will get better for Kenseth in 2010. He is OK with sponsorship, with Crown Royal moving over from the NASCAR-evicted No. 26 driven by McMurray. He has a good relationship with Drew Blickensderfer on the pit box. And he is one of the sport’s smoother, long haul drivers with a proven record for keeping his car in one piece and getting a good finish out of it.
But not only does the testing ban that seems to dog Roush Fenway the most remain in effect, the team will have 20% less information to share next season with only four cars in its stable. On top of that, Roush Fenway did not seem to show much improvement towards the end of 2009. Kenseth may be able to squeeze back into the Chase should the team’s engines hold up, but they still have a lot of work to do to become contenders again.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: A-
2007 Grade: A-
2008 Grade: B
2009 Grade: C