THERE’S ROOM AT THE TOP FOR A MATT KENSETH

Some drivers are fiery, like a Tony Stewart or Kevin Harvick. Other drivers are a bit more like politicians a la Jeff Burton or even Dale Jr. in his own way. Others are comedians, in the Michael Waltrip mode.

Matt Kenseth is none of these. The 2003 NASCAR Cup champion just goes out and quietly does his job, somewhat like one of his mentors, Mark Martin. All you need to know about Kenseth’s understated approach can be summed up in the Nextel commercial where they call out a replacement robot for Matt Kenseth during a victory celebration…

Don’t get me wrong, Matt Kenseth is no milquetoast. Just ask David Gilliland or Jeff Gordon. Remember, this is the guy known as “Matt the Brat.” Todd Behling, track announcer from Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin says it was because Kenseth mastered his own version of the “bump and run,” known as the “touch and see you later.” If you watch Kenseth carefully, you will see what Behling saw.

The difference between Kenseth, other than being quieter, is just that ability to keep his head when all is wrong. For the better parts of the 2009 and 2010- when speed was hard to come by at Roush Fenway Racing- he became the King of the Top 15. It was the best he could muster from his car, but you can be sure it was the best he had and he made the most of his efforts to make chicken salad out of chicken squat. This is the same Matt Kenseth who won the last non-Chase championship with one lone win and a load of consistency in 2003.

It’s good to see him do well, for the benefit of fans appreciate a more, shall we say, even-keeled demeanor. If you’ve got the pretty boys like Edwards and Jimmie Johnson up front, along with the spitfires like Harvick and Kyle Busch, then for those appreciate a more low key family man, there has to be a Matt Kenseth, a Martin or a Jamie McMurray or David Reutimann in the mix.

He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not big on attention. Kenseth says he’s usually the guy in the back row at church, and you notice he’s not the first drivers reporters go looking for if he’s not winning. On the other hand, a certain sly humor comes out in commercials like this…

 

If there’s a Tom Landry-type in NASCAR (remember the stoic Cowboys coach?) it’s Matt Kenseth. For all the talk about the need for personality in the sport, personalities such as Kenseth’s are needed as well. You gotta a little refreshing water to cool the fire.

Can this kind of driver be champ? Heck yeah, he’s done it! He’s parlayed that coolness into consistency, and you’d better believe he’s got the talent and the equipment to make it happen in 2011. Dismiss Matt Kenseth as a contender, and you do so at your peril.

Just ask Jimmie and Carl.