Matt Kenseth became just the sixth different driver to win the NASCAR Winston Cup (Grand National) Series for the Ford Motor Company with his fourth place finish in Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at the North Carolina Speedway, putting his name high among the pantheon of legends to have driven for the famous 'Blue Oval.'

Kenseth's Championship year may have been ground out on consistency rather than a plethora of outright race wins, although fans should only look at the 2002 season, when the Kenseth/Jack Roush/Robbie Reiser combination won a series high five races should they doubt his championship credentials.

Kenseth's 2003 season has been based around a solitary victory in March's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 17 Roush Racing DeWalt Power Tools Ford Taurus followed up his lone win with a remarkable twelve top ten finishes in the next 13 races, a streak that included runner-up efforts in the Food City 500 at Bristol and at the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte. With one race remaining, Kenseth has amassed eleven top five finishes and a series-best 25 top-10 finishes.

He grabbed the points lead after a fourth place finish at Atlanta in the fifth race of the season and has been alone at the top ever since. The closest anyone has gotten since then came after the Richmond race in May when Dale Earnhardt Jr. closed to within 20 points, but it eventually peaked at 436 points following the September race at Dover.

Kenseth's ultra-consistency was finally rewarded at Rockingham as he clinched team owner Jack Roush's first ever NWC title in 16 years of trying and became the first Ford driver to take the title since Dale Jarrett in 1999.

Once the initial Championship glory subsides Kenseth will be able to reflect on those whose names he follows on the list of Ford's NASCAR Winston Cup Champions.

Ned Jarrett, who is Ford's all-time race winner with 43, won his second series championship in 1965 and the first driver's title for Ford.

David Pearson is the manufacturer's only multiple champion as he won 27 races and captured 26 poles en route to back-to-back titles in 1968 and '69.

Bill Elliott registered the first driver's championship for Ford in the modern era, which started in 1972, by 24 points over Rusty Wallace in 1988.

The late Alan Kulwicki edged Elliott by the narrowest margin in NASCAR Winston Cup history when he led one more lap than Elliott and clinched the five-point bonus to win the title by 10 points in 1992.

Like Kenseth, Jarrett clinched his championship one race before the season-ending event in 1999 and eventually won by 201 points. As a result, the Jarrett's joined the Petty's as the only father-son duo to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.

Kenseth joins Tony Pedregon (NHRA Funny Car) and Paul Tracy (CART Champ car) as Ford's other major series champions in 2003. Scott Riggs and Jason Keller are still alive in their quest for the Busch Series championship, which culminates next weekend at Homestead.

Since debuting in 1998, Ford Taurus model has won 74 NASCAR Winston Cup races, two driver's championships (1999 and 2003) and three manufacturer's championships (1999, 2000 and 2002).

While this is Jack Roush's first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, he has one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2000 with Greg Biffle) and one NASCAR Busch Series title (2002 with Biffle) to his credit.

 

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