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Year in Review: Kenseth a consistent force throughout 2011

December 16, 2011, Jill Erwin,

Year in Review: Just like his sense of humor, Kenseth stays consistent in '11

There was a time, lo those many years ago, when Matt Kenseth's cutting sense of humor was the thing of rumors and asides. "He really is funny," the teller would explain, as the listener rolled his eyes.

But then the rumors took on a life of their own. And Kenseth started to show that sarcasm he had honed all those years. A dig here, a snide remark there, and a new angle to the 2003 Cup Series champion was born.

"In the Chase, I felt it was one of the most competitive cars I've ever had -- probably since the Chase began."


2011 Statistics

WinsFirst 26Final 10
Laps Led579296
Avg. Start16.87.5
Avg. Finish11.912.8

So it's no longer a surprise when Kenseth steals the show, as he did in the "Not Newlywed Game" during Champion's Week. But surprise is not a necessity when one can think as quickly on his feet as Kenseth.

Partnered with Roush Fenway Racing teammate and series runner-up Carl Edwards, Kenseth was asked which NASCAR driver Edwards would forbid his daughter from dating. Would Kenseth take the low-hanging fruit and take a shot at Brian Vickers, with whom he had several highly publicized run-ins at Martinsville? No, a true comedic artist always zags when the punch line feels like it should be a zig.

"Danica," he said, the smile just sitting at the corners of his mouth as the cheers grew from the crowd. He got a high-five from Jeff Gordon on his right before giving in and allowing himself to laugh.

For as much as Kenseth is becoming more open, and as much as he's showing a new side at times, he's still the same ol' Kenseth he's always been. He's consistent above all else, and just as that won him the '03 title, it earned him fourth place this year.

He had 24 finishes inside the top 15, and only four in which he finished 30th or worse. He was 31st in the points after Daytona, but into the top 10 after the fifth race at Fontana. He never fell out.

"I think we were OK when the year started," Kenseth said. "Daytona's one of those 'who knows what's going to happen' races. Then there were a couple of races where we didn't run so good, but we won at Texas which was early in the season."

It was, but it had been 76 races since Kenseth had visited Victory Lane. "Show me where to park this thing," he radioed to crew chief Jimmy Fennig.

"It was nice to get back to Victory Lane," Kenseth said after his speech at the Cup awards ceremony. "I think we were pretty decent most of the year. You can always be better, but I think we were OK. All year, our cars have been faster."

He won again four races later at Dover, then a final time in the fall Charlotte race during the Chase. Kenseth finished sixth or better in six of the 10 Chase races, and had only two finishes outside the top 30. Both of those involved Vickers.

First came Martinsville, where the two had myriad run-ins on the track. Finally Kenseth admittedly took Vickers out and sent him packing. Vickers later tried to return the favor, but only spun himself out in the process.

"With Brian, he just kept hitting me in the door," Kenseth said. "I mean, we're at Martinsville and I gave him the bottom. Obviously, I'm not going to roll over and let him go with 40 to go or whatever it was, and he just kept driving in harder and harder, and he slammed me in the door at least five times and just ran me up in the marbles, and I was just tired of it. So I spun him out."

Vickers vowed retaliation, and two weeks later at Phoenix, the two came together again. Kenseth said he was out of brakes and lifted well before Vickers got to his rear bumper. Vickers disagreed. The end result was an early end to the day for Kenseth, and more bad blood between them. For his part, Vickers denied that was any sort of payback.

"In the Chase, I felt it was one of the most competitive cars I've ever had -- probably since the Chase began," Kenseth said. "And it all went bad at Martinsville when Brian got into me and I got into him, and he got back into me and then wrecked us [at Phoenix]. So that's kind of where it went. If you take that race back, we probably still wouldn't have won the championship but we would have probably been third."

Instead, he settled for fourth. Should you dare have thought he had moved on from the Vickers incidents, you need only look back at that afternoon on Fremont Street, on stage with game-show legend Bob Eubanks.

Edwards was asked which driver Kenseth wouldn't mind bumping out of the way for a victory. Edwards answered Vickers. When Kenseth returned to the stage and answered incorrectly, then heard Edwards' guess, he deadpanned, "Yeah, but he probably wouldn't be leading."

Matt Kenseth: Notes-n-Nuggets

• Thirty-nine years old from Cambridge, Wis. Married to Katie, and they have two children together: Kaylin Nicola and Grace Katherine. Matt also has a son, Ross.
• Finished fourth in his 12th full-time season in the Cup Series.
• The eighth time he finished in the top 10 in the final standings, fifth time in the top five.
• Started the Chase fourth.
• Ended a 76 race winless streak at Texas in April.
• Won three times in 2011: Texas, Dover, Charlotte.
• 21 career victories
• Led 875 laps in 2011, led a total of 353 laps in 2009 and 2010 combined.
• Season Numbers: three wins, 12 top-fives, 20 top-10s, 875 laps led, three DNFs, finished on the lead lap 28 times, average finish of 12.2, 12.8 during the Chase.
• The 2003 Cup Series champion, 2000 Cup Series rookie of the year, 2004 IROC champion, and 2009 Daytona 500 winner.

The 2012 season could show that in addition to biting sarcasm, Kenseth also owns a long memory. No joke.

Watch all of Kenseth's highlights from 2011 and flip through his year in photos below: