Induct Kenseth into the NASCAR Hall of Fame

CHARLOTTE, NC — Two-time Daytona 500 champ Matt Kenseth finally reached the high point of his career Friday night when he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 50-year-old Kenseth, who drove 18 full seasons in NASCAR before retiring in 2020 with 39 Cup victories and 20 poles, highlighted a class that also includes longtime driver Hershel McGriff and crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine.

The driver that many referred to as “Brother Matt” when he first broke into the ranks of the 21st race on NASCAR’s career roster. He has 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.

In his acceptance speech, Kenseth said, “I’ve always viewed my career as a ladder—you always start at the bottom and hope to climb to the top.” “My ladder has hundreds and hundreds of steps. Without any of them, bottom, middle, or top—no matter who you fit into my life—I wouldn’t be here without any of you. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you all.”

Kenseth’s wife, Katie, and his father, Roy, recruit him.

“It’s the intrinsic drive that put Matt on this podium tonight,” said Katie Kenseth.

Kenseth captured the 2003 Cup Series championship behind a dominant season as he led the points standings the final 32 weeks. He has made the NASCAR Playoffs in 13 seasons and finished runner-up twice. He also won 29 Xfinity Series races.

Kenseth talked about learning to love NASCAR by watching his family race at Jefferson Speedway where he grew up in Wisconsin and begged his father to take him to his uncle Gary’s house so he could help him work on his race cars.

“Racing really is a family sport,” he said.

Kenseth 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 were with Kenseth.

“There was always a deep level of confidence that we would give 100 percent, not cross the line, not dump each other,” Johnson said. “As a competitor, he was one of the few that I knew we were going to race hard but we weren’t going to cross the line.”

Johnson said the two struck up a friendship away from riding bikes.

“I absolutely call him the friendliest,” Johnson said. “His family, his kids are close to my kids, our wives are close, it’s like we’ve become really friends and I’m so grateful for that.”

Harvick also called Kenseth a fair driver, but added that he is “that con man who would throw you out.”

“If you misbehave him, he will give you back exactly what he got,” Harvick said. “When you look at Matt, he was one of the few who was always figuring it out and finding his way to the front by the time the race was over. He’s a great hardcore rider and I always respect him.”

Shelmerdine was the crew chief and changed front tires for four of Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships. Only two crew chiefs have more first-string titles than Shelmerdine: class of 2012 inductee Dale Inman with eight and Chad Knaus, who will be eligible for Hall of Fame in 2024, with seven.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. enlisted Shelmerdine, saying, “He set my dad on the path to greatness.”

“What makes a great crew chief? He’s simple, and a great driver,” said Shilmerdine. “What else can we say about him? When we first started out together, Dale and I kind of intuitively clicked.”

The 95-year-old has competed on the circuit for 68 years.

From 1954 to 2018, he ran 271 races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards West Series), winning 34 races and achieving 100 top-five finishes. He captured the series championship in 1986 at the age of 58 and finished second in points in 1985 and 1987.

McGriff spoke at length about his career path, saying that he began driving vehicles at the age of seven.

“I’ve lived a happy life and this extrapolation is just the icing on the cake,” McGriff said, tearing up several times during his speech. He joked that he was still planning to write a book about his life.

Mike Hilton has been honored as a Landmark Award winner for his outstanding contributions to the sport. Helton was the first person outside of the France family to handle NASCAR’s day-to-day operations.

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