NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth

2011 Ride: No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2011 Primary Sponsor: Crown Royal
2011 Owner: Jack Roush
2011 Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 3 wins, 11 top fives, 20 top 10s, 3 poles, 3 DNFs, fourth in points

High Point: A dominant car, leading 169 laps at Texas ended a long winless streak for the 2003 champ; the win signaled that the No. 17 team was back and was going to be a factor in the 2011 title race.

Low Point: After a wrestling match at Martinsville left some bruised egos and feelings, Brian Vickers gave the No. 17 a shot in the rear end at Phoenix, knocking a strong No. 17 to a 34th-place finish, and ending any championship hopes the team had left after the poor Martinsville finish.

Summary: The driver of the Crown Royal No. 17 was his usual, consistently strong and quiet self throughout most of 2011, with Roush Ford power backing him up. Kenseth ended a 76-race winless streak at Texas, followed up with a two-tire strategy win at Dover and scored seven top fives and 14 top 10s en route to yet another Chase berth, a place where he has been seen as often as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart at the end of each season.

This time, Kenseth looked on his way to possibly snaring that elusive second title, when after a mediocre race at Chicago, several strong finishes and a win at Charlotte placed him second in the standings with four races to go.

Then the series went to Martinsville.

Kenseth had a strong car at the paperclip, leading laps in the race and looking poised to take the points lead from teammate Carl Edwards. But late in the race he battled with Vickers for a position for almost two dozen laps, with neither driver giving an inch and both doing their share of pushing and shoving. Finally, Kenseth lost his patience and turned Vickers, who retaliated by rear ending Kenseth once his car was back on the track. And just in case Vickers felt his point wasn’t made, he then wrecked another strong No. 17 car at Phoenix, leaving the Chase to be decided between Edwards and Stewart.

Kenseth would finish with a fourth at Homestead and thoughts of what might have been had he avoided Vickers at Martinsville.

Still, in the end it was a great year for Kenseth and the No. 17 team; they got back into victory lane three times and ran well all year straight through the Chase, where they had faltered several times in the past. Kenseth finished fourth in the standings, his best since finishing fourth in 2007. Matt Kenseth isn’t a name often trumpeted in debates over who is the best driver in NASCAR over the last 10 years, but his numbers certainly make him worth consideration.

Team Ranking: Second. Before tangling with Vickers at Martinsville, Kenseth looked to wrestle the points lead from teammate Edwards, but when all was said and done it was Carl challenging for the title and leaving Kenseth a strong second in the Roush Fenway clan.

Off-Track News: Roush Fenway Racing is cutting back big time, including laying off over a hundred employees and closing the No. 6 shop. Also departing from Roush Fenway will be the full-time sponsor of the No. 17 Ford, Crown Royal, leaving the No. 17 sponsorless for 2012 as of this writing.

2012 Outlook: While Kenseth has always been a consistent performer and sometimes championship contender, it’s difficult to say whether the diminished resources at Roush Fenway will keep the team as strong as in years past. Kenseth and the No. 17 team still have not landed a sponsor for 2012; while Roush Fenway still intends to run the car, white or not, this is bound to have an impact; as will the closing of the No. 6 garage and the extra information the fourth car at Roush Fenway supplied. If a sponsor isn’t found for the No. 17, Kenseth could be facing a tough year in 2012.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: A-
2007 Grade: A-
2008 Grade: B
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: B+
2011 Grade: A

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