Originally created 04/02/04

Kenseth's response: 2 wins and back atop points



FORT WORTH, Texas -- Matt Kenseth caught a lot of flak for winning NASCAR's championship last season when he won just one race.

His one-victory title helped prompt a change in how the Nextel Cup winner will be decided this season.

Through six races in 2004, Kenseth has had the perfect response to critics who questioned how he won his championship.

Kenseth is again the points leader, and he has already won twice with three other top-10 finishes. His strong performance has sent an "I told you so" message without having to say a word.

"There was probably a little bit of that attitude there because of some of the criticism we got over the winter," Kenseth said. "But all of the people that were really educated about racing, and the insiders and all of the competitors, I think, really accepted our championship."

Kenseth's only 2003 victory came in March and he led just 354 laps all season, but he topped the points standings for a record 33 straight weeks. He was a consistent finisher with a series-best 25 top 10s, which included 11 top fives.

"The funny thing is the year before we won the most races, and there were no complaints over that," he said. "Everything was just hunky-dory with the points that year."

When Kenseth won five races in 2002, he finished eighth in points.

This season began with a ninth-place finish at Daytona, then Kenseth drove his No. 17 Ford to consecutive wins while leading 382 laps at Rockingham and Las Vegas. He has been on top of the points since winning at Vegas, the site of his only 2003 win.

Kenseth takes a 22-point lead over Roush Racing teammate Kurt Busch into Sunday's Samsumg/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, and has a 66-point edge over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kenseth won in 2002 at the 1 1/2 -mile Texas track. Earnhardt got his first Cup victory there four years ago.

Earnhardt, who has two wins this season, was closer before losing 25 points and being fined $10,000 this week. NASCAR ruled he purposely caused a caution flag at Bristol that allowed him to stay on the lead lap.

Jamie McMurray was fined $10,000 for his postrace bump that sent Kenseth sliding sideways. On the final lap, Kenseth bumped past McMurray and finished fifth.

That was Kenseth's 34th top-five finish in 154 career starts. He has finished in the top 10 in nearly half of his races (71).

"Matt is a really quiet fellow. He stands on the gas, he does a good job driving," said Rusty Wallace, who has gone 104 races without a win but is coming off a second-place finish. "I like Matt a lot."

But Wallace also knows how difficult it can be to win a second season championship. He won the 1989 Winston Cup championship and later had a string of 10 straight top-10 finishes in season points before ending 14th last season. He's still waiting for the second one.

"The second one is always harder to win ... I'll tell you that," Wallace said. "I haven't won my second one and I would have thought I'd win 20 after I won that first one because everything was flowing so good."

If things keep going as well as they have for Kenseth, he won't have to wait that long.

Kenseth said the Fords, which weren't very strong at the end of last season, are much better. And there is continuity in his team.

"We came into this year with better cars, better engines, the same pit crew together, and we came out of the box and ran real strong like we hoped we could," Kenseth said. "It was good to come out and do that."