|Kenseth in DeWALT colors|
The 2003 Sprint Cup Series Champion and two-time winner of the Daytona 500 will race for the final time in his iconic No. 17 Ford, ending 13 seasons in the Sprint Cup Series with Roush Fenway. Kenseth took some time this week to reflect on some of the special moments from that 13-year run, as he looks forward to his 472nd career Cup start Sunday.
Kenseth has numerous highlights on his racing resume, but one of his favorite memories came in his first Cup Series start with Roush Fenway in the 2000 Daytona 500. Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser moved up to NASCAR’s elite series together that season, after competing against each other on the short tracks of their native Wisconsin.
“Just being in that race I remember was a big deal to me,” recalled Kenseth. “I remember walking down pit road with Robbie and looking up into the stands and seeing all those fans. Racing against such great drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin -- all guys who we used to watch race on Sundays -- and being able to race against them in the biggest stock car race in the world. That was a special moment for two guys from Wisconsin.”
Another memory from Kenseth’s time at Roush Fenway was his first Sprint Cup Series victory, also in his rookie year. Kenseth claimed that victory in the season’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kenseth started 21st that day and led for a total of 32 laps to earn his first Cup Series checkered flag.
|Victory Lane at the 2012 Daytona 500|
“That was a big night for us,” said Kenseth. “Dale Earnhardt Jr., and I had raced against each other coming up together from the Nationwide Series. When we moved up to Cup, he had won that year but I hadn’t yet, so I was feeling a lot of pressure to get a win. Dale actually dominated that race and we were able to get by him toward the end to get our first win. It was just an awesome moment.”
Just three years after his first Cup Series start, Kenseth earned the 2003 championship, with one win, 11 Top-5 and 25 Top-10 finishes with the No. 17 DeWALT Tools team.
“There was a lot that went into that championship,” recalled Kenseth. “In 2002, we were able to win five races and had a great season. Going into 2003, I felt like we really had a shot to win the championship. We were able to put it all together that year, and that championship is always the ultimate prize that everyone is racing for every year.”
Another big moment in Kenseth’s career came in the 2009, when he earned his first Daytona 500 victory. The win came after Kenseth started from the 39th position, then battled back with pit strategy after handling issues stranded them deep in the field. Kenseth was in the lead when the race was called on account of rain. His DeWALT Ford led for only seven laps that day, but they were the seven laps that counted most.
|One final ride Sunday for RFR|
“That was a cool day for us because it was Drew Blickensderfer’s first race as a Cup crew chief,” he recalled. “We actually struggled that whole week leading up to the 500 and we just kept working on the car every single lap of practice. We finally got the balance and handling where we wanted it for the race and those guys did a great job with pit stops and strategy. We had made the pass for the lead right before it started raining and that was just a really neat race and a pleasant surprise.”
Kenseth went to win the 2012 Daytona 500, as well, joining en elite group of drivers who have won two or more times in the sport’s most famed event.
Kenseth’s most recent happy memory came from his win in October of 2012 at Kansas Speedway. Heclaimed his 24th career Cup win, after a hard-fought battle that included damaged right-side sheet metal from of the car from contact with the wall. Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford started 12th and finished first that afternoon and led for a total of 78 laps.
“It’s the most recent win that we’ve had, and unless things go really well for us this weekend at Homestead, it might be our last win at Roush Fenway,” said Kenseth. “I’m hopeful that we can go out and win at Homestead, though. We’re bringing the same car as at Kansas and it’s a good track for us as an organization. This year, we were really dominant at the plate races, having a chance to win all four of them.
“We won two, which was wonderful. But it’s different to win a plate race rather than a normal race. (At Kansas), we really had to do everything. The pit stops and the strategy worked out and got us into the lead. It felt really good to win it for Jimmy and all the guys on the team, because it had been a couple of months since they knew I wasn’t going to be there next year. That it was really a testament to the entire organization about never giving up. The team proved that they’re giving me all they’ve got this season, regardless of my plans for the future.”
Photos: Universal, Chris Trotman/Getty Images