By Ben White
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Racing Ford, collected one win and 25 top-10 finishes to secure his lone NASCAR Cup Series championship and the first series title for team owner and automotive businessman Jack Roush.
While racing on the short tracks in his home state of Wisconsin, Kenseth made winning look easy. He dreamed of one day taking his talents to a new level, hoping to eventually travel south and try his hand in NASCAR.
After finding success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Kenseth’s big day finally arrived in September 1998 when he was called to drive Bill Elliott’s car at Dover while Elliott attended his father’s funeral. Kenseth finished a very impressive sixth.
In 1999, Kenseth competed in five Cup Series races for team owner Jack Roush, scoring one top-10 finish. The following year, Kenseth began driving for Roush full time and won his first Cup Series race in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
There were no wins in 2001 but five wins came in 2002. Then in 2003, Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser put together a phenomenal season that kept them at the top of the points chart for 32 of the 35 races on the schedule.
Kenseth began the year in 19th in the standings after the season-opening Daytona 500. The next week, he finished third at Rockingham Speedway and then collected his only win of the year at Las Vegas. A fourth-place effort at Atlanta put him on top of the points.
No one could touch him as he continued to record top-10 finishes race after race.
All told, Kenseth finished 90 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
PRESIDENT: GEORGE W. BUSH
NO. 1 AT THE BOX OFFICE: FINDING NEMO
MOVIES TO WATCH: THE MATRIX RELOADED AND ELF
NO. 1 SONG: “IN DA CLUB” BY 50 CENT
GALLON OF GAS: $1.75
POP CULTURE: THE SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA DISINTEGRATED OVER TEXAS UPON REENTRY, KILLING ALL SEVEN ASTRONAUTS ON BOARD.
Wisconsin short-track graduate Matt Kenseth, driving the No. 17 Roush Racing DeWalt Tools Ford, enjoyed a smooth and consistent season as he led the standings for a majority of the 36-race schedule. Kenseth won only one race – Las Vegas in March – but was able to keep his car in contention on a weekly basis. Consistency was his gameplan and it proved simple, yet effective in securing his lone NASCAR Cup Series championship.
During the final laps of the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway on March 16, Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven battled hard for the win, swapping the lead multiple times. As the two drivers crossed under the checkered flag, their cars tangled and locked together in a heap of smoke and bent sheet metal. Craven won the race by a mere bumper width in the most dramatic finish at the legendary track.
Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 Roush Racing DeWalt Tools Ford won one Cup Series race and had 25 top-10 finishes after 36 starts.
The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Lowe’s Chevrolet, driven by Jimmie Johnson, topped three races with 20 top-10 results.
2003 Season Recap
DATE LOCATION WINNER
Feb. 16 | Daytona International Speedway | Michael Waltrip
Feb. 23 | Rockingham Speedway | Dale Jarrett
March 2 | Las Vegas Motor Speedway | Matt Kenseth
March 9 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Bobby Labonte
March 16 | Darlington Raceway | Ricky Craven
March 23 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Kurt Busch
March. 30 | Texas Motor Speedway | Ryan Newman
April 6 | Talladega Superspeedway | Dale Earnhardt Jr.
April 13 | Martinsville Speedway | Jeff Gordon
April 27 | Auto Club Speedway | Kurt Busch
May 3 | Richmond Raceway | Joe Nemechek
May 25 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
June 1 | Dover Motor Speedway | Ryan Newman
June 8 | Pocono Raceway | Tony Stewart
June 15 | Michigan International Speedway | Kurt Busch
June 22 | Sonoma Raceway | Robby Gordon
July 5 | Daytona International Speedway | Greg Biffle
July 13 | Chicagoland Speedway | Ryan Newman
July 20 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
July 27 | Pocono Raceway | Ryan Newman
Aug. 3 | Indianapolis Motor Speedway | Kevin Harvick
Aug. 10 | Watkins Glen International | Robby Gordon
Aug. 17 | Michigan International Speedway | Ryan Newman
Aug. 23 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Kurt Busch
Aug. 31 | Darlington Raceway | Terry Labonte
Sept. 6 | Richmond Raceway | Ryan Newman
Sept. 14 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
Sept. 21 | Dover Motor Speedway | Ryan Newman
Sept. 28 | Talladega Superspeedway | Michael Waltrip
Oct. 5 | Kansas Speedway | Ryan Newman
Oct. 11 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Tony Stewart
Oct. 19 | Martinsville Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Oct. 27 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Nov. 2 | Phoenix Raceway | Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Nov. 9 | Rockingham Speedway | Bill Elliott
Nov. 16 | Homestead-Miami Speedway | Bobby Labonte