Five Epic Matt Kenseth Victories
by Tom Jensen January 11, 2023
Wisconsin native and Class of 2023 Hall of Fame inductee Matt Kenseth shined on NASCAR’s biggest stages.
Being voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame doesn’t happen by accident.
Instead, it comes from a career of sustained excellence, one that is reflected in measurable achievements, with championships and race victories being high up on that list.
The more races a driver wins, especially at the premier series level, the better that driver’s chances are of eventually becoming a Hall of Famer.
Matt Kenseth, who along with Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine will be inducted into the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 on the evening of January 20th, has those measurable achievements: a premier series championship in 2003, 39 race victories, 182 top fives and 29 more wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Kenseth didn’t just win often, he also won big. In a career that stretched over parts of 22 seasons, Kenseth triumphed on some of NASCAR’s biggest stages. Here are five of his most epic victories, in chronological order:
2000, Coca-Cola 600
As a rookie making his 18th career premier series start, Matt Kenseth piloted a Roush Racing (now RFK Racing) Ford to victory in NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (now Charlotte Motor Speedway). After starting 21st, Kenseth steadily worked his way forward, taking the lead for good on Lap 375 of 400. Kenseth led an all Hall of Fame top five to the checkered flag, finishing 0.573 seconds ahead of Bobby Labonte (2020), Dale Earnhardt (2010), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021) and Dale Jarrett (2014). The victory, which paid $200,950 to the driver and team owner Jack Roush (2019), was Kenseth’s first premier series triumph.
2004, NASCAR All-Star Race
Four years after his first race win, Matt Kenseth returned to Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race, then called the Nextel All-Star Challenge. On Lap 10 of the 90-lap race, a massive crash on the frontstretch took out one-fourth of the 24-car field, including favorite Jimmie Johnson. Ryan Newman dominated the evening, leading 49 laps in his Roger Penske-owned Dodge, but with four laps to go, Kenseth got on Newman’s rear bumper and got the Penske Dodge loose, making the race-winning pass. The move proved to be a profitable one for Kenseth and team owner Jack Roush, with the win paying $1,044,000.
2009, Daytona 500
There are a lot of ways races can be decided and weather played a big part in the outcome of the 2009 Daytona 500, the first of Matt Kenseth’s two victories in the Great American Race. Driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Elliott Sadler led on Lap 122 and was out front for the next 24 circuits. On Lap 146, Kenseth got a push from Kevin Harvick and dove under Sadler to take his first lead of the race. Timing worked out in Kenseth’s favor, as the caution flag flew less than one lap later. After six laps under caution, the race was declared official after 152 of the scheduled 200 laps, and Kenseth claimed the victory. The race paid $1,530,288 to win.
2012, Daytona 500
As was the case in 2009, weather again played a factor in Matt Kenseth’s second Daytona 500 victory in 2012, but for wholly different reasons. The race was rained out for the first time in history, with network television partner FOX opting to air it in prime time on Monday night. Once the race began, Kenseth’s Roush-owned Ford was one of the dominant cars, leading 50 laps, including the final 38. This race, however, will always be remembered for something breaking on Juan-Pablo Montoya’s Chevrolet, which crashed into a jet dryer under caution during a rain delay, sending up a huge fireball. Once the accident was cleared up, the race went full distance, with Kenseth and the team winning $1,588,887.
2013, Bojangles’ Southern 500
In 2013, Matt Kenseth joined forces with another Hall of Fame team owner, Joe Gibbs (2020) and the combination was dynamic from the start. Kenseth had his most prolific single-season victory total in 2013, winning seven races. One of those victories came at historic Darlington Raceway, home to the Bojangles’ Southern 500, considered to be one of NASCAR’s majors. Driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kenseth passed teammate Kyle Busch on Lap 355 of the 367-lap race and held on to win over another JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin, as Busch faded to sixth after leading 265 laps. First place at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway paid $314,866.