Friday, April 2, 2004

This season, Kenseth's points come from wins


NASCAR Nextel Cup

The Associated Press

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.

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 already has 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, including 11 top-fives.

"The funny thing is the year before we won the most races, and there were no complaints over that," he said.

When Kenseth won five races in 2002, he was 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 led in 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, and 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).

"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."




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