Kenseths Star Rising

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While 2003 was his dream season, 2005 has certainly been a nightmare for Matt Kenseth.

After winning the then Winston Cup title two years ago, it's been a struggle for Kenseth. He made the "Chase for the Championship" last season, but finished a distant eighth to teammate Kurt Busch in the standings and was never really a factor.

However one of the highlights of 2004 was Kenseth's win in the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, a title he hopes to defend this weekend.

"It was really cool to be able to win this race last year," Kenseth said. "I remember we had started the season off really strong but then went into kind of a slump. Winning the All-Star Challenge was a good boost for our team."

The Wisconsin native could use a similar boost this year. He's mired in 21st place and has been only able to muster one Top 10 finish in the season's first eleven races. Certainly not what Kenseth, team owner Jack Roush or crew chief Robbie Reiser expected.

"It's been disappointing so far, for sure," Kenseth said. "There's been a few races where we ran pretty well, have had some bad things happen to us. We ran really well at Daytona and California. You know, we ran pretty decent, respectable at least, at Bristol. And then there's been some races where our performance has just been not acceptable either.

"The races we've ran bad, we haven't had any problems. We just ran bad and finished bad. Phoenix we ran good all day and had a tire come apart for some unknown reason. When we've been running good, we've had bad luck. When we've been running bad, we've had okay luck and finished. We just haven't been able to get things to go our way yet."

The bright lights, jammed grandstand and $1 million payday for Saturday night's all-star extravanganza might provide the kick start Kenseth needs to turn around 2005.

"It’s a neat atmosphere – the fans really enjoy the event and come out and support us," he said. "For me, it’s a nice break from the point competition. It’s an honor to be able to compete in a race with our sport’s elite drivers – all past winners."

With any luck, Kenseth will be the first driver since Davey Allison's back-to-back wins in 1991 and 1992 to make a repeat visit to the All-Star Challenge victory lane two straight years.

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