Why I Love NASCAR: Matt Kenseth

The only driver I knew from the great state of Wisconsin was Alan Kulwicki, the phenom non-Southerner who single-handedly (it seemed) won the Winston Cup in 1992 doing things his way. Kulwicki was both engineer and perfectionist, synonymous some would argue, and brought Wisconsin racing legitimacy when he captured the Cup in arguably the most competitive and exciting final race of the season ever. Years later another racer from Wisconsin would dazzle the NASCAR Cup fans in his own right. Matt Kenseth burst into Cup, did great things, was responsible for a swirl of controversy, and has quietly amassed a fan base that is both hardcore and loyal.

Matt Kenseth became a blip on my radar after he won the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup championship. As I was in a self-imposed hiatus from the sport, I wasn’t watching his consistent season. The season was the one that saw Kenseth’s one win, eleven Top-5s, and an unprecedented series best twenty-five Top-10s that kept him in the Top-10 in points in 2003 for a record 35 out of 36 weeks. Kenseth had the championship sewn up with a ninety point lead over second place in points Jimmie Johnson in Rockingham, the second to last race of the season! But at the time I didn’t know that. When shopping at T.J. Maxx in the toy department before Christmas 2003, my husband spotted a Matt Kenseth No. 17 Dewalt diecast car. Our oldest child was about sixteen months old so I was objecting to the purchase until my husband said, “Oh Can, it’s the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion and his name is Matt!” That’s all it took; our son’s name is Matthew. We bought the car and thus started the era of Matt Kenseth in our home.

That’s not to say we became Matt Kenseth’s biggest fan. We didn’t. His impressive win of the International Race of Champions (IROC) championship in 2004 was cool but I never witnessed a string of successes since I’d been following him. Still, his nickname “The Silent Assassin” intrigued me so I watched and waited. Sure enough, over the years, Matt Kenseth would seemingly come out of “nowhere” and win a race or at the very least pick up a Top-10! Kenseth was always a bit too quiet and unassuming for me after being an Earnhardt fan from the beginning, but his humbleness and quiet consistency was admirable.

In 2007, upon joining Rowdy where my NASCAR fandom resurfaced in earnest, I met a huge contingency of Matt Kenseth fans. The Kenseth Fan Club was well represented and the group seemed to live and breathe over every success. This soured me after a while just as Kyle Busch mania invading the site would do in later years. Ever since Dale Earnhardt was lost I reevaluated my fandom. No longer was I a one-driver gal. I took a more holistic view of the field and felt appreciation and respect for all forty-three drivers who make up the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. I learned to develop a habit of finding something, anything that I can like and appreciate about every driver in the circuit. This allowed me a more enhanced and fulfilled experience watching every race and following the entire season. No longer was my enjoyment in a race based on the performance of one lone driver, but wrapped up entirely in how the race was performed as a whole. I could rejoice in any driver’s win. I understand that I am a bit of an anomaly with this view, although my husband is, in fact, of the same mindset which is, quite frankly, how I learned this take on NASCAR. But in addition to the reasons listed above, I, simply, have found no driver ever who satisfies my personal criteria for a favorite driver the way Dale Earnhardt did. I’m left with “the field”.

Matt Kenseth's 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup
Chief 187 w/ Matt Kenseth's 2003 Winston Cup
Upon starting my Internet Radio work at the beginning of the 2011 Season I was thrown on air with a crew of sports-loving men who knew much about all sports, including NASCAR. One man I work with, Eric Foster, is a diehard Matt Kenseth fan. He and I battle on air, he championing Matt Kenseth all season, and I left to take up Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s defense! When my family and I visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina in April I made sure to take a picture with Matt Kenseth’s 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup and sent it to Eric Foster. Because of Eric Foster’s and my association, I have become a more ardent follower and supporter of Matt Kenseth and quietly urge him on to victory. I look for “The Silent Assassin” to strike, have cheered his wins unabashedly this season, and text Eric Foster during the Cup races whether the man is watching or not!  It takes something personal for me to connect; listening to Eric Foster talk about why he is a Matt Kenseth fan was apparently enough to sway me to Kenseth’s camp! 

Matt Kenseth will need to find a flawless end of the season to the detriment of the rest of the top Chasers to pull off the Championship this year, but if anyone were to do it, I have faith it would be him! But regardless if he takes the Cup or simply is an also-ran in the Chase, a man who inspires that kind of fierce, total, and complete loyalty from his fans is a racer I’m proud to watch and yet another reason why I love NASCAR.

Chief 187 Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.

Why I Love NASCAR: Matt Kenseth Why I Love NASCAR: Matt Kenseth Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, November 07, 2011 Rating: 5