Kenseth set to make 500th career start in the Sprint Cup Series this weekend at New Hampshire
Current points leader, Matt Kenseth, is set to earn a career milestone this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he looks to make his 500th Sprint Cup Series start in Sunday’s Sylvania 300. Kenseth made his debut in the series in 1998, and has spent 14 full seasons at NASCAR’s top level. Kenseth will be driving a special 500th start paint scheme aboard his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota for this weekend’s race events in Loudon, and will be looking to earn his seventh win of the season in this milestone start.
“All this really means is that I’m old,” joked Kenseth when asked about his thoughts on the historic start. “I’m proud having 500 starts. I remember making my first one and I wasn’t sure if I was going to even be able to make a second one. It’s a very tough business, so I feel very fortunate to have been with such great people, and to have driven such great cars and had fantastic sponsors throughout my career to be able to still be in this sport and competitive after this many seasons.”
Kenseth’s career has been full of many achievements over his 14 full seasons at NASCAR’s top level including his 2003 Cup Championship title, two DAYTONA 500 Championships, an International Race of Champions (IROC) title, Rookie of the Year honors, and qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in all but one of its ten seasons of existence.
A native of Cambridge, Wis., Kenseth began his racing career at the age of 16 and won his first feature event in only his third race. By the age of 19, Kenseth was racing against the likes of Dick Trickle, Ted Musgrave and Rich Bickle in Wisconsin, and learning the skills that would eventually lead him to NASCAR.
In 1997, Kenseth got the fateful call from fellow Wisconsin racer, Robbie Reiser, who asked Kenseth to drive for his team in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. Continuing his successful development in the Nationwide Series, Kenseth made his first Cup series debut on September 20, 1998 substitute driving for Bill Elliott in the McDonald’s Ford at Dover International Speedway. The young Kenseth drove to an impressive sixth-place finish in his first run with NASCAR’s elite.
Kenseth was given the opportunity to make five more Cup series starts in 1999 while also continuing his racing in the Nationwide Series full time that season as well. In 2000, Kenseth and his No. 17 team went full-time Cup series racing and Kenseth earned his first Cup victory at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that year. Kenseth went on to finish his rookie season with four top-five and 11 top-10 finishes along with that win, and was named the 2000 Raybestos Rookie of the Year.
Kenseth and his No. 17 team continued to grow and develop while earning several accolades over the next few seasons, but in 2003, everything clicked for Kenseth and his team as he was crowned the final Winston-era Cup Champion with a record-setting performance. Kenseth’s consistency kept the rest of the field at bay with a series-best 25 top-10 finishes, 11 top-five finishes, and one win. Kenseth also led the championship point standings that season for a record-breaking 34 straight weeks en route to Roush Fenway Racing’s first-ever Cup title.
Over the course of the next five seasons, Kenseth qualified for the Chase for the Cup every season from 2004 through 2008 and in the process, continued to add to his career achievements list. In 2006, Kenseth became the first driver since Dale Earnhardt to win back-to-back Bristol night races, and along the way, set career highs for top-five finishes (15), laps led (1,132), and average finishes (9.8).
Kenseth began the 2009 season with back-to-back victories by winning the Daytona 500 and followed up his victory a week later at California Speedway with another win. With the Daytona 500 win, Kenseth earned a spot with some elite company like Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, David Pearson and Richard Petty as one of only five drivers in NASCAR history who have won a Cup Championship, the Raybestos Rookie Award, and the Daytona 500.
The 2010 season saw Kenseth make his 400th Sprint Cup Series start in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway but he finished that season without a win. The following year however, Kenseth snapped a 76-race winless streak in April at Texas Motor Speedway and went on to earn three wins that season along with a career-high three pole awards.
2012 opened with a bang for Kenseth after he claimed victory in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race and then went on to win his second DAYTONA 500 title. Kenseth earned three wins that year for the second consecutive season and had an average finish of 11.1 which was his best finish since 2006. Despite all the success of the 2012 season, Kenseth announced that the 2013 season would find him changing teams and moving into the No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Husky Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing.
With several changes in line for the 2013 season, Kenseth found himself at home with his new race team, crew chief, and organization at Joe Gibbs Racing. NASCAR’s new “Gen. 6” car style seemed to increase the overall competition on the race track and Kenseth found success early on claiming his first trip to Victory Lane in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The win proved to be the first of many for Kenseth and his No. 20 team, in fact, in 27 starts so far this season, Kenseth has clinched a career-high six wins so far in 2013. Kenseth also leads the series currently with the most laps led. With nine races still remaining in the season, he has surpassed his career-high for laps led in the Series.
Kenseth began the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup as the top seed and won the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend to maintain his top spot in the standings as the series travels to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend for the second race of the Chase. He and the No. 20 Home Depot Husky team will look to carry their momentum into Loudon, New Hampshire for Sunday’s Sylvania 300. The race will be broadcast on ESPN Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 2:00p.m. EST.