Matt Kenseth Has Relinquished His Title of Mr. Consistency...For Now
Much of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing is unpredictable.
Who's going to win the next race? Who's going to start the next wreck? And who will be king at the end of the season?
All things that no one can see coming.
But, there was always one constant that never seemed to fail the last few years. Something everyone seemed to see coming: Matt Kenseth would be right in the thick of things.
Kenseth and his Roush-Fenway team made a name for themselves by always being at the front when the pay window opened. Whether they had dominated the race all day or been out of sight and struck when it was time, they were always there.
In 2003 Kenseth used that strategy and won the championship after only winning one race, the third race of the season in Las Vegas, before easily reeling off top-10 finishes for the rest of the season.
He even clinched the championship a week early.
He may not have won a lot of races over the years, but he was putting together solid finishes and solid points finishes in the books. He was one of two guys that could say he made the Chase every year since it started, he could also say that he's the reason NASCAR has the Chase.
Because of it all Kenseth earned the nickname "Mr. Consistency" to go along with his robotic personality. He and his No. 17 Ford team were the ones to get the job done and everyone knew it.
As of September 2009, not so much.
For the first time in his career Kenseth went winless in 2008, still made the Chase, but finished 11th in points, which continued his downward slide after winning the championship.
Kenseth's title defense took place in 2004 where he finished eighth in points to teammate Kurt Busch, with two wins and 16 top-10 finishes. Over the course of 2004, 2005 and 2006, Kenseth won seven races and compiled 54 top-10 finishes in the 108 races run.
Every year he was increasing the top-10 finishes and improving his points position: eighth in 2004, seventh in 2005, and second in 2006. He was living up to his nickname and showing everyone that he really was Mr. Consistency.
But then 2007 hit and things started to slowly turn.
While he won two races and had 22 top-10 finishes, he went down in points instead of continuing to move up and wound up fourth. But the performance was slipping and then came 2008 and the No. 17 team was different that what his fans were used to seeing.
At the end of the year, team owner Jack Roush promoted Kenseth's crew chief Robbie Reiser, who Kenseth had worked with his entire career, to another position within the organization. Nationwide Series crew chief Drew Blickensderfer took the reins of the No. 17 and guided the team to victories in the first two races of the 2009 season.
Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and California which positioned him atop the point standings and made he and Blickensderfer not only undefeated, but off to a better start than the previous year. Things looked much more promising for the team.
After winning California, Blickensderfer said that things could only go downhill from there for the team. He's now eating his word.
"Flying home from California, I was like, man this is going to be pretty cool. We're going to have a real solid year and be a serious championship contender," Kenseth said.
"Then went to Vegas and broke on the first lap. Honestly, ever since then it's just been a struggle." Kenseth missed the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup and afterward was honest and upfront in saying that even if he and his team had been locked in, they wouldn't have had a shot to win the title the way they've been running.
He currently sits 14th in points after 27 races, with only nine top-10 finishes. But the bigger problem is that the team that has been so good at turning a bad day into a good day isn't even on the map most of the time this year.
"It's been really uncharacteristic of this team," he says. "One thing we're always known for, it seems like, if we're having a mediocre day, running 13th, 14th, 15th, somehow we'd figure out how to finish better than we were running all the time."
While the entire Roush-Fenway organization has been going through pains this year, Jamie McMurray possibly on his way out, David Ragan on the down-slide from his tremendous year in 2008, plus Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle winless, it's been Kenseth that has caused much confusion.
The man that won the first two races of the year slid through the point standings faster than the "S" word through Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s lips at Talladega.
Consistency has gone out the window for this team and so has the nickname that should belong to Jimmie Johnson and his three straight championships. He's picked up where Kenseth went down a few years ago and hasn't looked back.
Kenseth needs to look forward and right the ship that has gone so horribly wrong on he and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer nearly all year.
Before Atlanta, Kenseth said that he feels the team is making strides for the better to help them regain their winning ways. "We've been doing a little bit better lately, more consistent. I think we found some things in our cars to make them a little bit faster. I think we have good things in the pipeline coming up and getting more competitive."
The only thing that can bring back Mr. Consistency is speed, and that's something Kenseth hopes to have soon.
"I think the new engine will help us a little bit when we get that done," he says. "I think it's more us getting a little bit behind, get caught back up and figure out how to get on top of the competition and get an edge on those guys."
When he does, the pay window is going to be repeatedly occupied by Matt Kenseth and his "Killer Bees" team.
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