Matt Kenseth's Daytona 500 Victory Proves He'll Be in NASCAR Title Hunt

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Best Buy Ford, poses with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 27, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth finally took the checkered flag about 36 hours after the Daytona 500 was supposed to start. It was a grueling battle of mental toughness to survive rain and fire delays, but above all else it proves Kenseth is a contender for this season's championship.

The victory is his second in the Great American Race with the previous triumph coming to begin the 2009 season. Unlike that disappointing year, however, Kenseth will use this win to propel him to a tremendous season.

He didn't just show up on the final lap to steal the show, he dominated the entire race following the bizarre incident involving Juan Pablo Montoya with 40 laps to go. He made all the right moves with precision timing, proving he is locked in like never before.

The veteran driver is regularly in the title mix, but has only take home the trophy once. That came back in 2003. If there was ever one race that could give him a boost, both in the standings and in the minds of his entire team, it's Daytona.

Every NASCAR star spends the entire offseason dreaming about winning the sport's version of the Super Bowl. So when that dream is realized it's literally the perfect start to a season.

The most important thing for Kenseth now is maintaining the momentum. After what's sure to be a whirlwind week of interviews and other appearances, there's another important race next Sunday and he can't afford a bad performance.

Having let a Daytona slip away in the past, Kenseth should have learned that lesson. Just because a driver wins the marquee race doesn't mean the job is suddenly done. There are 35 more weeks of racing before a champion is crowned, so the work has just begun.

Judging by his complete performance at Daytona, though, Kenseth is a man on a mission this season. He has his sights set on a memorable season that will catapult him back into the conversation about the sport's elite drivers.

Daytona success is necessary to be talked about in that manner. Kenseth has achieved that once again, now he just needs another title to secure his spot amongst the best drivers in the world.

The 500 proved he'll be in the hunt at the very least.