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NASCAR Season Preview: Matt Kenseth

Photo credit: Kim Phillips (CC)

#17 Best Buy/Valvoline Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

Born: March 10, 1972

Home: Cambridge, Wisconsin

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: After the birth of his second child at the start of the season, Kenseth put together his best season since 2007, winning three races and three poles (nearly doubling his career total in that statistic) to finish fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He also cracked 20 top 10 finishes for the fifth time in his career.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Kenseth usually had bad luck immediately after a stroke of good luck. Much of the momentum Kenseth accrued at Texas in April after snapping a two-year winless streak was sucked out after a crash the next weekend at Talladega. The Texas win had catapulted him from ninth to third in points; the crash set him back to eighth. Finishing 21st at Chicago in the first race of the Chase started him off at 10th in points; after working his way up to second at Talladega, a 31st place finish at Martinsville the next week knocked him back to fifth.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Recently, Kenseth has established a pattern of following up a winning season with a winless one, and the winless seasons have both occurred on even-numbered years. Take out of that what you will, but worry more about the piecemeal sponsorship program funding this team; Best Buy has signed on for only nine races, while the Valvoline sponsorship (good for a single Sprint Cup race for Roush Fenway Racing last year) is undetermined.

If anything will kill the momentum of this team, it will probably be that. Team owner Jack Roush has committed to run the driver that gave him his first Cup championship for the full season come hell or high weather, but you have to wonder when and if the money pit will run dry. Times are tough in the sport, a fact to which Roush can attest, after having to shutter the iconic #6 car for all but the Daytona 500. There aren’t many indications that this season will work out for Kenseth as it did for Jeff Burton in 2004 (i.e., with Kenseth joining another team with a funded but struggling ride), but there are plenty of signs pointing to a lot of different paint schemes for this car in 2012.

– Chris Leone

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