Top 20 Countdown: No. 9 Matt Kenseth

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

(Getty Images)

2010 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
5 0 0 6 15
The countdown
No. 20: David Reutimann   |   Career stats
No. 19: Kasey Kahne   |   Career stats
No. 18: Mark Martin   |   Career stats
No. 17: Ryan Newman   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Joey Logano   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Jeff Burton   |   Career stats
No. 13: Jamie McMurray   |   Career stats
No. 12: Kurt Busch   |   Career stats
No. 10: Clint Bowyer  |   Career stats
No. 9: Matt Kenseth  |   Career stats
No. 8: Revealed Feb. 2

2010 finish: 5th

Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 10th
• Jay Hart: 7th
• Jenna Fryer: 14th
• Dustin Long: 15th
• Nate Ryan: 5th

2011 outlook: In truth, Matt Kenseth had no business qualifying for the 2010 Chase. He had a mediocre (at best) season to that point and recorded just two … TWO! … top-10 finishes in the 13 races leading into the playoff.

But once the Chase began, so did the Roush revival, and BOOM! Kenseth was a contender again, so much so that he wound up finishing fifth in the standings.

Was he the fifth-best driver in 2010? Not even close, but he absolutely was over the final weeks of the season, and that’s the important part. Because as we’ve seen in recent years – look no further than Kevin Harvick at the end of 2009 – how one is doing at the end of one season is a good indicator of how he’ll fare in the next.

Kenseth still has a ways to go before he’ll be considered a threat to win on a weekly basis – he’s winless since winning the opening two races of 2009. That said, he’s moving in the right direction, something that couldn’t have been said through the first eight months of the 2010 season.

What you need to know: Jimmy Fennig will remain as Kenseth’s crew chief, potentially giving Kenseth the continuity he’s lacked over the last three seasons. Since Robbie Reiser left at the end of the 2007 season, Kenseth has had four different crew chiefs.