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Kenseth clinches first career Winston Cup title


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ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Matt Kenseth has been the target since March. Several took their best shots, but no one was able to gun him down.



Matt Kenseth won at Las Vegas earlier this season. Credit: Autostock

On Sunday at North Carolina Speedway, Kenseth grabbed the biggest target of them all -- the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.


Kenseth clinched his first Winston Cup title -- and the first for Roush Racing -- with a fourth-place finish in the Pop Secret 400. His race was typical Kenseth: start near the back, hang around all day, stay out of trouble and move up at the end.


Kenseth is the 26th driver to win the Winston Cup championship and is the final driver to hold that title. Next season, Nextel takes over as sponsor of NASCAR's top series.


Kenseth did it the hard way this season, becoming the first champion since Benny Parsons in 1973 to win only one race. But that didn't diminish his accomplishment, four-time champion Jeff Gordon said.


"I'd take a championship with no victories," Gordon said. "I'm sure he'd like to get more victories, but I think what happened is they had such a lead and needed to hold and maintain that lead that sometimes you're going to be a little bit more conservative to do that. That might keep you from taking more risks, whether it be pit calls or a driver call, to make sure you get that top-five or top-10 finish.



Kenseth has been the center of attention through most of the Winston Cup season. Credit: Autostock

"They've been capable of winning more races, but of course, I feel like we've been capable of winning more races, too. That certainly does not take away from the championship. They've done an excellent job this year, and they've been the most consistent and best team all year."


The consistency was apparent early in the year. After a mediocre 20th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Kenseth was third at Rockingham, and then picked up his lone victory, winning the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


The following week, he was fourth at Atlanta and took over the points lead. From there, no one could topple Kenseth and his Robbie Reiser-led crew. From Daytona to the season's 28th race, Kenseth finished outside the top 14 only twice. The top-fives and top-10s continued to mount, as did his points lead.


At the halfway point of the season, after the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Kenseth led Gordon by 165 points. That would be as close as anyone would get.



Kenseth's crew became adept at making the best of bad situations. At Darlington in March, Kenseth sustained damage in a lap 7 crash but rallied to finish eighth.


At Infineon in June, Kenseth had a flat tire and fell way back but passed 10 cars in the final 20 laps to finish 14th.


At Richmond in September, Kenseth spun with a loose race car and fell back to 39th. Reiser kept him on the track under a later caution, putting Kenseth in sixth. He ended up seventh.


At Atlanta two races ago, he sustained some damage in an early accident, and then a header on the engine broke that robbed the car of horsepower. Still, Kenseth persevered and finished 11th.


Kenseth's margin ballooned to 436 over Harvick after the 28th race, at Dover in September, and it appeared he could simply coast to the title. But then trouble struck. First, he blew an engine while battling for the lead at Talladega, his only DNF of the season.


Then, he wrecked his primary car before qualifying at Kansas City. The backup was ill-prepared, and Kenseth spun in the race, forcing him behind the wall to repair the damage. He ended up 36th, and the points lead shrunk to 259.


"I hear comments all the time, 'Oh, he ran 15th all day,' and in the last stint, he finishes third or fourth," teammate Greg Biffle said. "That's how savvy Matt is as a driver. He's really sharp."



So is his crew.


"He and his team have done a great job of keeping the fenders on the car and getting to the end of races," said Ryan Newman, who leads the series with eight victories. "If you can go back on some of our six DNFs: 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda.' We could have had a lot more points and been there challenging him, but nevertheless, they've done a good job working with the points system we currently have."


Kenseth's lead held steady as the season wound down, but Kenseth started to feel the pressure. At Charlotte, Kenseth decided to skip the postponed Busch Series race, which was run hours before the Saturday night Winston Cup race.


Tony Stewart, the defending Winston Cup champion, noticed.


"You could see it in Matt's face each week that the stress was getting to him," Stewart said. "I just said, 'Man, I know what's going on here. I've been through this.' I called him and talked to him about it. It seems to have helped him quite a bit, and that's what I was hopeful of happening.


"This is the moment of your life. This is the position you hope your career will get you to one day. It's one of the most stressful and trying times of your life, but at the same time, it's one of the best moments of your life, too."


So Stewart told him to have fun, two times over. Last year, Stewart said he spent the last four weeks of the season crunching numbers from the points standings, going over scenarios.


"Whatever you like to do to go relax, if you take Katie to dinner once a week, go twice a week this time," Stewart told Kenseth. "If you go watch one movie, go to two movies a week."


Kenseth listened.


And now, he can truly enjoy being the champion.

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exciting hmm lets see..



Less super speedways


less gas mileage races


more short tracks


more saturday night races


and less kenseth


works for me



Nascar has took all the fun out of racing... no more racing to the line, no more rough driving.. I garuntee Dale Sr is rolling over in his grave right now, they've kicked all the good ole' boys to the curve and brought it to many business ways

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