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Kenseth makes the most of lame-duck season

December 10, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Matt Kenseth's two victories during the Chase, including one at Kansas, helped propel him to a seventh-place finish. (Getty Images)

Year in Review: Driver gets three wins, finishes seventh before leaving RFR

When Matt Kenseth first admitted that he was leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the 2012 season, everyone outside the camp of his No. 17 Ford team seemed to have the same thought.

Kenseth's season was toast.

"Winning the Daytona 500 was a great way to kick off the season, so that was probably our biggest highlight."

--MATT KENSETH

Matt Kenseth

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives103
Top-10s163
Poles10
DNFs10
Laps Led362118
Avg. Start13.712.3
Avg. Finish10.313.3

Kenseth, of course, protested otherwise. Then he went out and backed up that bold proclamation, showing once again that he's a man of strong character with the types of actions -- and results -- to support that assumption.

Despite running for a lame-duck team from the middle of the summer on, Kenseth not only made the Chase for the Sprint Cup but also won two of the 10 Chase races. That helped offset some other difficulties he experienced in the Chase, allowing him to finish seventh overall in the point standings.

Add in that he also won the rain-delayed 54th running of the Daytona 500 in the season's first race in February, and it was a successful final season for Kenseth in the familiar No. 17 Ford that he will abandon next season for a new ride at Joe Gibbs Racing.

* Caraviello: Offseason's biggest winner? JGR

"Winning the Daytona 500 was a great way to kick off the season, so that was probably our biggest highlight," Kenseth said.

Kenseth overcame overheating and radio issues to win the Great American Race for the second time -- he also won in 2009. Kenseth joked of the radio difficulties encountered that his teammates "probably enjoyed their day a whole lot more because they couldn't hear me complain over the radio as often as they normally do."

* Kenseth wins bizarre Daytona 500 | Race Rewind

It is that type of self-deprecating humor and dedication to team that helped Kenseth and veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig hold it together down the stretch when both knew the end of their time together was coming near.

Their dual determination to the cause allowed Kenseth to win again during the Chase, first at Talladega and then at Kansas.

"It was really great to get that win at Talladega. I felt like we had fast superspeedway cars all year long and really could have won all four of the restrictor-plate races [at Daytona and Talladega]," Kenseth said. "Jimmy gave me a car that could have won all four of those things. But it was really neat to at least get that one toward the end of the season, and then to back it up with another win at Kansas, that was really special."

* Kenseth wins ahead of Big One | Kenseth survives wild race

Kenseth said he was proud of the effort he and his team put forth the entire season.

"We were solid in the points all season," he said. "We certainly had a run of a few bad races right before the Chase where we struggled, and unfortunately that carried over to the very beginning of the Chase. ... But for the most part, we were decent all year."

The end of the season brought to a completion Kenseth's long run at RFR, where he first broke into the Cup Series in 1999 by running five races. By the next season in 2000, Kenseth was behind the wheel full-time for car owner Jack Roush, and he ended up winning 24 races during the next 13 seasons before deciding to make the transition to JGR beginning in 2013.

Kenseth summed it up best as he took the checkered flag for the win at Kansas.

"Man, this feels good," Kenseth told his teammates over the radio. "I really can't thank you guys enough. You guys are awesome, and I really appreciate it."

The feeling, no doubt, was mutual.

Watch all of Kenseth's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.