Top 20 countdown: No. 9 Matt Kenseth

(Photos: Getty Images)

2008 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
11 0 0 9 20
The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Tony Stewart
No. 14: Jamie McMurray
No. 13: Clint Bowyer
No. 12: David Ragan
No. 11: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No. 10: Denny Hamlin
No. 9: Matt Kenseth
No. 8: Revealed Saturday

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 11th

2009 outlook: Matt Kenseth has never been the most dynamic of NASCAR drivers, or even the 50th most dynamic. What he does is race consistently, keeping himself in the hunt throughout and lurking his way into a high finish. It’s how he won the Cup in 2003, after all, so if it works …

Trouble is, in 2008 it didn’t work so well. Kenseth was one of the many drivers who didn’t record a single win, joining Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick in that dubious honor. It was the first season without a victory since 2001 for Kenseth.

Making matters worse, Kenseth and Carl Edwards had some very public friction toward the end of the season. Could Kenseth be taking offense that Edwards is now the very public face of Roush Fenway Racing? That kind of gossip-pages psychoanalysis doesn’t really fit here, but what’s unmistakable is that Edwards has eclipsed Kenseth. The slow-and-steady approach doesn’t work when you’re too far behind.

Kenseth is, on the whole, as reliable as they come – his average start in 2008 was 16.5, and his average finish was 16.4. But his relatively low finish in the 2008 Chase and his placement on this list indicate that he’s going to have to do more to make some serious noise this season. He might even have to show a little emotion.

What you need to know: If you’re a Matt Kenseth fan, you’re intimately familiar with stomach agony. Kenseth pinballed between glory and infamy throughout the 2008 season. At one point in the year, he posted six straight top-10 finishes, but then stunk up the Chase with two 40th-plus-place outings. It’s anybody’s guess where he’ll finish in any given week, but if it’s a good week, it’s likely to be very good – and vice versa.