The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2023 has officially been announced.
And in his first year on the ballot, Matt Kenseth will officially become a Hall of Famer.
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup Champion, was voted into the Hall of Fame this year, along with legendary crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine and Herschel McGriff.
One of two inductees from this year’s modern era ballot, Kenseth was the Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2000 before winning the championship in 2003, the final year before NASCAR shook up their points system and introduced their playoff system, the Chase for the Cup.
In a NASCAR career that spanned over 20 years, Kenseth won 39 Cup Series races and had an incredible 331 top 10 finishes, nearly half of his 697 starts in NASCAR’s top series.
It was Kenseth’s championship run with Roush Racing in 2003 that’s often credited with pushing NASCAR to create a playoff points system. Kenseth only won one race that season, but he lead the points for 33 out of the 36 weeks. His season was so good, in fact, that despite only having one win, Kenseth had already clinched the championship the week before the final race.
But my personal favorite Matt Kenseth moment came in 2015 (and hardcore NASCAR fans already know where I’m going with this) when he intentionally put Joey Logano into the wall at Martinsville in retaliation for Logano wrecking Kenseth at Kansas two weeks earlier.
The fans erupted with cheers for Kenseth (because Logano wasn’t any more popular back then than he is now), but NASCAR came down hard on Kenseth for intentionally wrecking another driver while Kenseth was 9 laps down. Kenseth was ultimately parked for the rest of the race, and was suspended by NASCAR for two races and put on probation until the end of the season.
Kenseth announced he would “take some time off” from racing after Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Erik Jones would take over his ride in 2018, but he did come back for 7 races in 2018 with his former team, Roush Fenway Racing.
Most recently, Kenseth returned to the track during the 2020 season to replace Kyle Larson for Chip Ganassi Racing after Larson was let go from the team and suspended by NASCAR after using a racial slur during an iRacing event while NASCAR was shut down due to the COVID pandemic.
Also joining the Hall of Fame with Kenseth from the modern era ballot in 2023 will be Kirk Shelmerdine, who served as Dale Earnhardt’s longtime crew chief. Shelmerdine joined Richard Childress Racing in 1982 to become crew chief for the Intimidator, and the pairing would go on to win 46 races and four Cup Series championships together.
Shelmerdine is the youngest crew chief to win a Cup Series race, and is also the youngest crew chief to win a Cup Series championship.
He stepped down from the pit box in 1992 to pursue his own racing career, and eventually made 25 Cup Series starts as a driver between 1994 and 2006, though he saw limited success as a driver in NASCAR’s top series.
And Herschel McGriff will round out the 2023 Hall of Fame class from this year’s Pioneer ballot.
The 94-year old got his start in NASCAR at the 1950 Southern 500 at Darlington after being convinced to join the series by NASCAR founder Bill France. He would win 4 races in 1954, but McGriff quickly decided he would rather race closer to his home out west, before eventually returning to NASCAR’s top series for the occasional race starting in 1971.
McGriff made his final Cup Series start in 1993 at the age of 67, a now-unheard-of 39 years after his debut.
Of the three members of the class of 2023, Kenseth was chosen by 69% of voters, while Shelmerdine appeared on 52% of voters’ ballots. McGriff, who was on the Pioneer Ballot alongside open wheel racing legend AJ Foyt among others, won that ballot with 31% of votes cast.
Mike Helton, Vice Chairman of NASCAR who has previously served as the sport’s President and Chief Operating Officer, was named the winner of the 2023 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
The induction ceremony for the 2023 class will be held next year on January 20.