ALL-STAR: In The Hunt - Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford FusionFirst All-Star start: 5/19/2001Best finish: 1st (2004)How he made the race: Won 2009 Daytona 500

Editor’s Note: Eighteen drivers are guaranteed to start in the May 22 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which will be televised live on SPEED, starting at 7 pm Eastern. Following is the final profile in the series of 18 featuring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers locked into the field.

Good luck finding a driver who has been a more consistent frontrunner in the Sprint All-Star Race than Matt Kenseth.

While Kenseth doesn’t have as many All-Star wins as some of his compatriots in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Roush Fenway Racing driver is historically a force to be reckoned with when the prestigious non-points-paying event rolls around.

Consider that in nine All-Star appearances dating back to 2001, Kenseth has four finishes of third or better, six top-10s and just one DNF in the now $1 million-to-win affair.

Kenseth won the event in 2004 and finished second last year after losing the lead to Tony Stewart in the final three laps. He captured the pole in 2002 and 2007.

Not surprisingly, the 2003 Cup champion is ready for the curtain lift on the 2010 Sprint All-Star Race, which SPEED will televise live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.

“To be a part of the All-Star Race and that group of drivers is always cool, and to do it at Charlotte is a lot of fun,” Kenseth said. “The race pays a lot of money and it’s a short race without any points attached to it, so it’s always really exciting. There is really nothing on the line; you just race for fun and the money.”

It should come as no surprise that Kenseth likes the All-Star Race being held in Charlotte. The 1.5-mile track played host to Kenseth’s first Cup victory as a rookie in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600, and the facility has remained one of Kenseth’s strongest.

The Wisconsin native has 10 top-10s in 21 points-paying starts at Charlotte despite not reaching victory lane in a points race at CMS since his initial win a decade ago. In fact, Kenseth hasn’t won a Cup race anywhere since triumphing at California’s Auto Club Speedway in the second outing of 2009.

His losing streak currently stands at 46 races – a drought that technically won’t end even if he’s soaking in champagne at the conclusion of the All-Star Race.

How bad does Kenseth crave a win - All-Star or otherwise?

“To me it is important to win, but more than that, if this makes sense, it is important to put yourself in position to win and be up leading laps,” said Kenseth, an 18-time Cup winner. “If you look at Jeff Gordon’s year, I don’t think he has won yet but he has led like 800 laps and has been in position every week. It is just a matter of time until he wins. You always want to win every week, but more so for me it is important to have the performance of the car and the team, everybody involved, to be a contender to win. If we are up there leading laps and in contention, eventually we will win. It is important for me to get our performance up to a championship level.”

It was that desire to contend for a title and compete for wins a year after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup that prompted Kenseth to suggest to team co-owner Jack Roush after the season-opening Daytona 500 that a crew-chief change be made. At the veteran driver’s behest, Roush appointed veteran pit boss Todd Parrott to replace second-year man Drew Blickensderfer atop Kenseth’s war wagon.

While the change hasn’t earned Kenseth a trip to victory lane, the combination has netted six top-10s in 11 starts, including a third-place finish last Sunday in Dover, Del.

How well is Kenseth meshing with Parrott, who guided Dale Jarrett to the 1999 Cup championship at Robert Yates Racing?

“It has been good. Like any new relationship, there is a learning curve and ups and downs,” the driver of the No. 17 Ford said. “You learn what you like and dislike about each other. I am sure he wishes we were doing better. I wish we were doing better, but it has been a positive change. It has certainly brought us some experience and leadership to the team which has been good. It is a long season and whenever there is a change it is exciting and starts off good. What we have to do is keep that going through the rest of the season.”

The next order of business is the All-Star Race, which will be Parrott’s first with Kenseth.

“This race brings back a lot of memories for myself with some of the drivers I worked with in the past,” Parrott said. “I was on Rusty’s (Wallace) team when he won it back in 1989 and Matt finished second in last year’s event, so I’m really excited about this year’s All-Star Race.”