Matt Kenseth chosen for the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

When he begged his dad and uncles to work on their race cars, when he first heard super late models race the grand half-mile Madison International Speedway near their home or when he had the chance to drive one of them, Matt Kenseth was not thinking of NASCAR.

Not this way, anyway.

“I never really felt like it was a realistic dream or anything like that,” Kenseth said, so many years later.

And as for the Hall of Fame, well, NASCAR didn’t even have one when Kenseth was growing up in Cambridge in the 1980s.

So no, it couldn’t be a dream either.

But the facts are these:

Kenseth has spent the better part of 24 years driving stock cars at the highest level. He won a championship and 39 Cup Series races, including two Daytona 500s, as well as 29 other races in NASCAR’s second division now known as the Xfinity Series.

And on Wednesday, the Hall Selection Committee decided his career made him worthy of joining Bill France, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and the other legends of his sport.

Nominated for the first time, Kenseth will be entered in the Class of 2023 along with four-time Cup champion Kirk Shelmerdine of the Modern Era Ballot and trailblazing selection Herschel McGriff. The induction is scheduled for January 20.

Kenseth Crew cheers on their driver after winning the Winston Cup title November 9, 2003.

After:The people of Wisconsin have played an important role in the history of stock car racing. Here are the 7 most important (and a few more).

From 2017:Matt Kenseth of Wisconsin leaves NASCAR, leaving a legacy of admiration, friendship and success

“I don’t want to play it down,” Kenseth said Sunday, returning to Madison to run, “because it’s a huge honor to be on this list (of nominations), whether you’re on it or not. But I gotta be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Just 72 hours before deliberations, he said he hadn’t even noticed that the vote was on Wednesday.

“As you get older, things like that are really cool,” Kenseth continued. “But I’ve never really raced for that kind of stuff. I always raced for that day and to try to win and try to beat the best and do my best.

Kenseth became the second driver from Wisconsin to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, following Greenfield’s late 1992 champion Alan Kulwicki, who was inducted in 2019.

Fifty-eight drivers, team owners and other sports personalities have been honored since 2010.

Kenseth, 50, was a 24-year-old Madison champion and a regular on short-track stages beyond his home country when the late engine builder Carl Wegner gave him his first start in what was then the Busch series. On May 25, 1996, he started 37th and finished 31st at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth sprays Coke in victory lane after his maiden Cup victory.

Less than a year later, former Wisconsin rival Robbie Reiser brought Kenseth into the series full-time. He quickly caught the eye of Mark Martin, then an active rider with Midwestern roots and now a Hall of Famer.

“I immediately went to (team owner) Jack Roush and said, ‘Hey, I know you don’t have room for this kid, but you have to look for him,’ Martin said in an interview. in 2017. “You gotta get him listed. He’s the one.”

Kenseth’s Cup debut came in 1998, replacing Bill Elliott after Elliott’s father died, and he finished sixth, which was Elliott’s best finish that year.

Four years and three days after making his NASCAR debut at the same venue, Kenseth earned his first Cup win in Roush’s No. 17 Ford. He won Rookie of the Year honors that season and then delivered Roush his first Cup title in 2003, locking the title with a run to spare. The following season, NASCAR moved to a playoff-style system that would prevent an early clinch.

Kenseth and car owner Jack Roush pose in victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 for the second time.

Kenseth would win 24 Cup races for Roush and give Roush Fenway Racing its first Daytona 500 win in 2009 and another in 2012. He won 15 more times with Joe Gibbs Racing from 2013-17. Although 2017 was the Kenseth’s final full season, he returned to Roush to try and help rebuild that team and joined Chip Ganassi Racing to finish out 2020 after Kyle Larson was suspended.

“I’ve always been impressed with his talent and his ability,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., a longtime friend and rival and recently inducted, during their final full-time season. “He was as good a driver as anyone on the show today.”

Kenseth has won the sport’s biggest races other than the Brickyard 400, despite finishing second four times, including his last try.

Matt Kenseth celebrates in victory lane after winning the 2017 Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the last of his 39 Cup victories.

Kenseth has made the playoffs in 13 of his last 14 full-time seasons and has seven top-five finishes. He ranks 17th all-time for the Cup Series top 10 with 331 in 697 starts (47.5%).

Every Hall-eligible driver with more Cup wins than Kenseth’s 39 had already been elected.

The biggest flaw in Kenseth’s record is the 2015 episode in which he crashed into Joey Logano’s car, knocking him out of the playoffs in retaliation for Logano spinning him earlier in the season. Kenseth was suspended for two races.

“You certainly learn who is your friend and who is not. Who cares about you, the person, and who doesn’t. Who’s a good time friend, and who’s a friend all the time even when the chips are down,” Kenseth said in the ensuing offseason.

“There are always things you learn no matter what you go through in life, good and bad.”

And sometimes things happen to a person that they never could have imagined.

Matt Kenseth in numbers

1 Cut Series Title (2003)

2 Daytona 500 wins (2009, 2012)

29 Xfinity Series wins in 288 starts

39 Cup Series wins (tied for 21st all-time)

182 Top five in 697 starts (26.1%)

331 Top 10 (47.5%)

About Joseph Minton

Check Also

Motor racing – Leclerc leads Spanish practice, Mercedes accelerates

By Alan Baldwin BARCELONA (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Formula One leader Charles Leclerc was fastest in …