Back to Back for Kenseth
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 22, 2013 | 5:15 P.M. EST
Kenseth captured his 31st career win in his 500th start. (Photo: Getty Images)
LOUDON, N.H. - Sunday was to have been a day that the title contenders closed Matt Kenseth’s lead. Even he conceded he was “a little worried’’ coming to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track he had never won at and hadn’t had a top-five finish since 2005. Shoot, some fantasy game players were leaving the points leader off their roster this weekend.
Kenseth’s second consecutive victory makes one wonder if this Chase will be drama-free the next two months. At least on the track.
“If Kenseth keeps doing what he’s doing, it’s not going to matter what anybody does,’’ Jeff Gordon said after his pit-road miscue led to a 15th-place finish.
Kenseth’s dominance has decimated the Chase field. Only two drivers - teammate Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson - are within 35 points of the lead after two races. Last year, 11 drivers were within 35 points of the lead at this time.
It could get worse.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway where Kenseth has 10 top-five finishes in his last 15 starts there. The series then goes to Kansas where Kenseth won in the spring. Charlotte, another 1.5-mile track, follows. Joe Gibbs Racing has been dominant on such type of tracks this year.
“Anything can happen anywhere,’’ Kenseth said after his 31st career Cup victory. “You can be at your best track and have whatever happen and get a bad finish. But certainly have a lot of confidence in the next three tracks coming up.’’
Maybe this is the best way to explain Kenseth’s control of the Chase - Busch has finished second each of the past two races and lost 11 points to Kenseth.
That has to be frightening to the rest of the field.
Just as worrisome for the title contenders is that four of Kenseth’s career-high seven victories have come at tracks he hadn’t previously visited Victory Lane. It makes one wonder if he has a weak track in this Chase. It might be Martinsville, but Sunday’s performance leads one to believe he should be as strong there next month.
Kenseth credits the success to Joe Gibbs Racing - which has won five of the last seven races - crew chief Jason Ratcliff and the team.
“I don’t feel like I’m necessarily a better driver than what I was last year,’’ Kenseth said. “I think I’ve learned a lot this year. I did come in with my ears and eyes open and tried to learn as much as I can, but I don’t feel really behind the wheel I’m really any different.’’
Really, should people be surprised at Kenseth’s success? He often has been compared to David Pearson for his ability to work his way through the field and be in contention to win at the end of the race.
Kenseth led 106 laps Sunday, including 92 of the last 93 laps. He ran toward the front all day and when he took the lead, he didn’t give others a chance to take it away from him.
“Matt was definitely faster than we were,’’ said Busch, who is 14 points out of the lead. “(Kenseth) just had a special car here this weekend. We tried everything to get it like theirs.’’
Kenseth was fast all weekend. That eased the worries he had about this weekend.
It also left everyone else to race for second on back.
Greg Biffle placed third for his best finish since his Michigan win in June and relished it.
“We just got good at the end and our car really, really took off,’’ he said. “It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time even though we finished third.’’
Jimmie Johnson kept his hopes for a sixth title alive by placing fourth. He is 18 points behind Kenseth.
“I truthfully feel like we had a shot to win this race,’’ Johnson said. “Those last couple of restarts, lining up on the inside lane just didn’t work for anyone. I’d lose a couple of spots and have to get them back.’’
Jamie McMurray came back from being involved in an accident to finish fifth for his second top-five finish in the last two weeks.
For a second week in a row, none of them had anything for Kenseth at the finish.
“I’ve said it for years, if I could finish second in every single Chase race, I’d take it and win a championship than to win a Chase race,’’ Busch said.
At this rate, finishing second in every Chase race won’t be enough for Busch. Not with how Kenseth is running.