NASCAR Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth Named to 'Greatest 75 Drivers' List
A Hall of Fame pick last year, Matt Kenseth joins the select “75 Greatest” list.
His accomplishments include the 2003 Cup title, his 20 poles, 39 race victories, 182 top-5 finishes, and 331 top-10 finishes in 697 career starts. A
mong those 39 victories are the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500s, the 2013 Southern 500 at Darlington, four victories at Bristol, and three each at Dover, Fontana, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, and Michigan.
To many older fans, Matt Kenseth is best remembered as the last NASCAR Cup Series champion before the arrival of the 10-race playoff system. Driving the No. 17 Ford for Jack Roush, he won only once in 2003, but was consistent enough throughout the season to beat Jimmie Johnson by 90 points. The playoffs arrived the next year and, for better or worse, are still with us.
Instead of being remembered as the answer to a trivia question, the quiet, reflective Wisconsin native can now be remembered as one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers. The 51-year-old retired family man was named Wednesday as the 74th driver on the prestigious list that recognizes NASCAR’s best in this, its 75th anniversary season. (Jimmie Johnson will be unveiled as No. 75 on Thursday).
A Hall of Fame pick last year, Kenseth joins the select “75 Greatest” list based on his 2003 title, his 20 poles, 39 race victories, 182 top-5 finishes, and 331 top-10 finishes in 697 career starts. Among those 39 victories are the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500s, the 2013 Southern 500 at Darlington, four victories at Bristol, and three each at Dover, Fontana, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, and Michigan.
All told, he won at 19 different venues and at least one race a year for 13 years, and enjoyed 13 top-10 points seasons. He was no slouch in the Xfinity Series, either, winning 29 times and ranking second and third in points in 1998-1999, before coming to Cup.
His debt came at Dover in the fall of 1998, when he subbed for Bill Elliott as Elliott attended his father’s funeral in Georgia. Kenseth started 16th and finished sixth in the No. 94 McDonald’s Ford, a performance that caught the attention of Roush, a long-time Ford team owner. They teamed up for five races in 1999, then Roush brought him on full-time in 2000.
They stayed together for the next 13 seasons, winning 24 races. (Teammate Kurt Busch beat Johnson by eight points for the 2004 title). Kenseth got 15 more victories between 2013-2017 in Toyotas with Joe Gibbs Racing before returning to Roush in 2018 to sub when Trevor Bayne wasn’t healthy enough to drive. Kenseth “retired” in 2019, but came back in 2020 to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing after Ganassi fired Kyle Larson for his conduct during an on-line racing event.
Kenseth’s championship season was marked (marred?) by its simplicity. He won at Las Vegas in March of 2003, then rattled off top-10 finishes with maddening consistency. He and crew chief Robbie Reiser had five- and six-race streaks of top-10s, and only twice did they have back-to-back poor finishes. Kenseth took the points lead in Week 4 at Atlanta and stayed No. 1 for the next 32 races, largely based on 25 top-10 finishes in 36 starts.
Nine drivers won more than Kenseth that year and eight others matched his one. And imagine how Ryan Newman (another of the 75 Greatest Drivers) felt after winning a series-high eight times … but still finished sixth in points.
The newest group among the sport’s greatest drivers is being selected by a committee comprised of former drivers, team owners, industry personnel, NASCAR executives, and current and former media members. All 75—the original 50 class named 25 years ago and the new 25—will be recognized during Goodyear 400 pre-race ceremonies.
As NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, company president Bill France called that group “the men who define the competition of our sport.” He added, “Their accomplishments are the benchmark that much of our history is identified by. Honoring them in this way, at the beginning of the NASCAR 50th anniversary celebration, is one way of showing our true appreciation for them and the invaluable contribution they have given over the past 50 years. These are the drivers who made and make NASCAR fans stand on their feet and cheer. These are the drivers who are NASCAR history.”
NASCAR'S Greatest Drivers
50 SELECTED IN 1998
SELECTED IN 2023
(No particular order)
51, Tony Stewart
52, Kasey Kahne
53, Mike Stefanik
54, Randy Lajoie
55, Kyle Larson
56, Greg Biffle
57, Sterling Marlin
58, Ryan Newman
59, Chase Elliott
60, Carl Edwards
61, Ron Hornaday
62, Jeff Burton
63, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
64, Bobby Labonte
65, Martin Truex Jr.
66, Brad Keselowski
67, Larry Phillips
68, Sammy Ard
69, Kurt Busch
70, Kyle Busch
71, Greg Biffle
72, Kevin Harvick
73, Joey Logano
74, Matt Kenseth