Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011: 4. Matt Kenseth

Birthdate: 10 March 1972 Hometown: Cambridge, Wisconsin USA Team: Roush Fenway Racing Crew chief: Jimmy Fennig 2011 starts: 36 Poles: 3 Wins: 3 Top 5: 12 Top 10: 20 Annual earnings: $6,183,580 Championship points: 2330 Championship position: 4th

Some drivers reach out and seize the headlines, and shake them for all they're worth. Others just keep their heads down, take the car out on track and get the job done. Matt Kenseth is very much of the latter persuasion, so quiet and focused that you almost forget he's there at all - until he steals the chequered flag and creeps ever upwards into contention in the Chase. It's great to see that readers haven't been fooled his understated nature and have been impressed by his driving ability in 2011.

Kenseth had a sluggish start to the season at Daytona, but quickly improved and took pole at Las Vegas and a total of three top six finishes in the first half dozen races. But going into the April evening event at Texas Motor Speedway he was all too aware that he had been without a win for 76 races, and it was time to change that: despite a problem with refuelling at one point, Kenseth took the win and joked over the team radio that someone would have to remind him about the way to victory lane, it had been so long since his last visit there.

He would go on to take two more wins during the season at Dover and Charlotte and always looked comfortably in the Chase, where he would take two more pole positions. His consistency was evident: always featuring at or near the front of a race, he would end up with 20 top ten finishes in 2011, a figure only beaten by Jimmie Johnson (21) and a truly extraordinary performance by Carl Edwards (26).

He still had a chance of taking the championship, but finally a spin at Martinsville and getting into the wall with help from Brian Vickers at Phoenix gave him two costly poor results at just the wrong point of the Chase and he ended up dropping behind Tony Stewart, Edwards and Kevin Harvick in the final days of the season. Disappointing, to be sure - but perhaps the blow was softened by watching the titanic struggle at Homestead-Miami between Stewart and Edwards for the championship, knowing that these two surely had the edge over everyone this year regardless. Sometimes fourth place really is the best that can be accomplished, and is a quiet achievement in its own right.

Someone else who isn't fooled by Kenseth's low-key demeanour and sees his true worth is team co-owner Jack Roush. Even though the #17 car lost its primary sponsor (whisky brand Crown Royal) at the end of the season, Roush never considered letting Kenseth go and committed himself to finding new backers for the car for 2012 (electrical retailers Best Buy have now signed up for nine races so far.) Roush has high expectations for the quiet man of pit road, and Kenseth is doubtless eager to oblige and deliver with a championship in the very near future.

Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:

5. Kevin Harvick 6. Jeff Gordon 7. Marcos Ambrose 8. Jimmie Johnson 9. Kasey Kahne 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.


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