2-time Daytona 500 winner Kenseth set to enter Hall of Fame
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Two-time Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth and three others will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.
The 50-year-old Kenseth, who drove 18 full seasons on the NASCAR circuit before retiring in 2020 with 39 Cup victories and 20 poles, highlights a class that also includes longtime driver Hershel McGriff and crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine. Mike Helton will be inducted as the Landmark Award winner for outstanding contributions to the sport.
Kenseth ranks 21st on NASCAR’s career wins list. He won all of the sport’s biggest races including the Daytona 500 in 2009 and 2012, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500 and the All-Star race.
Kenseth captured the 2003 Cup Series championship behind a dominating season in which he led the points standings for the final 32 weeks of the season. He made the NASCAR playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons and finished runner-up twice. He also won 29 Xfinity Series races.
Shelmerdine was the crew chief and front tire change for four of Dale Earnhardt's seven championships. Only two crew chiefs have more premier series titles than Shelmerdine: class of 2012 inductee Dale Inman with eight and Chad Knaus, who will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2024, who has seven.
McGriff, 94, competed on race tracks for 68 years. From 1954 until 2018, he participated in 271 races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards West Series), winning 34 races and posting 100 top-five finishes. He captured the series championship in 1986 at 58 years old and finished second in points in 1985 and 1987.
The four were selected to the Hall of Fame last May.
Kenseth was a driver who earned the respect of his contemporaries, including Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, said some of his fiercest battles on the racetrack have been with Kenseth.
“There was always just a deep level of trust that we’re going to give 100%, not step over the line, not clean each other out," Johnson said. "... As a competitor, he was one of the few that I knew we’d race hard but we wouldn’t cross the line.”
Johnson said the two forged a friendship away from the track riding bicycles.
“I absolutely call him a friend,” Johnson said. “His family, his kids are close my kids, our wives are close, like we’ve really become friends and I am so thankful for it.”
Harvick also described Kenseth as a fair driver, but added that he is “that sneaky guy that would dump you.”
“If you did him wrong, he was going to give back exactly what he got,” Harvick said. "As you look back at Matt, he was one of the rare few that would always just figure it out and find his way to the front by the time that the race was over. He’s a great hardcore good racer and I always respected him.”
AP Motorsports Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports