As we enter week number 3 of the chase, Matt Kenseth is making a mockery of the whole process. Kenseth has won both races, looking dominant in both, and has added to his career season win total. Prior to this season, Kenseth’s most wins in a season was 5, he had that weeks ago. Kenseth for many years has been a driver that has been chastised for being boring. At one point in time his robotic personality was even made fun of in a commercial. Kenseth was the driver who somehow managed to finish around 8th every week and managed to always be at or near the top of the point standings. Some might even say that Kenseth’s “boring” style is almost solely responsible for the new Chase format. What changed? Why has Kenseth become a dominator? A gregarious would be champion who gains fans by the moment? Where did this all come from?
By all accounts, Matt Kenseth has always been an incredible family man, loyal friend, and one of the most fun drivers in the pit area. Many years ago, he and Dale Earnhardt Jr, were not only best friends, but expected to be the rivalry that defined their era. Don’t believe me? Check out this article from 2000 http://espn.go.com/auto/s/doubletrouble.html A multitude of things have prevented those two from being at the top, *ahem* Jimmie Johnson , and lifestyle changes have taken those two former best friends onto different paths. But how can someone who spent years hanging with Dale Jr ever be considered boring?
The biggest change in the perception of Kenseth was falling under the tutelage of Jack Roush. Roush, and to an extent Rick Hendrick, have asked for their drivers in recent years to be very safe, very sponsor friendly, don’t rock the boat, keep everyone happy. As been made apparent in recent weeks, you do what the boss says. Now are we to believe that Matt Kenseth is a wild party animal who gets crazy every chance he gets? No, obviously not, but Kenseth seems immensely happier racing at Joe Gibbs racing. He smiles more, he seems friendlier, just seems to be happier all the way around. Kenseth had so much success at Roush, why would he want to leave?
There is a small minority in the NASCAR world that Roush Racing has been falling off in quality for many years. 10 Years ago Dale Earnhardt Inc was one of the preeminent teams in NASCAR, now they are merely a part of a struggling organization. Roush Racing quickly seems to be going that way. Jack Roush has an incredible eye for talent. Some of the best “wheelmen” currently in NASCAR either have, or are, running for Jack Roush. Kurt Busch, Kenseth, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards can get into any car, anytime, and win (nevermind the fact that Kyle Busch would be there as well if not for Kurt’s previous transgressions). Great drivers can overcome the shortcomings of less than championship level equipment. Look no further than Kurt Busch in the 78. The question must be asked, are the Roush Racing Machines the reason for these driver success, or are the drivers just that good?
The other elephant in the room for this discussion is Toyota’s overall dominance this season. Barring some shenanigans, Toyota would have had 4 of the 12 Chase drivers, obviously that changed. Kenseth currently has seven wins, without some bad luck Kenseth could realistically have 10 including the Daytona 500. Toyota will probably end the season with half of the wins for the season, so it is quite clear that Toyota was the most prepared for the Gen-6 car.
So here we are, a great car, a great driver, and a great season. Which leads back to the original question, is Matt Kenseth THAT good? I’ll leave that to be decided by way smarter people. But this chase is quickly turning into a three horse race. Obviously that can quickly change if those gremlins come back to haunt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson are just waiting in the wings to pounce. I just hope this smiling, entertaining, and fun Matt Kenseth is here to stay. Not only because it adds another interesting fold in the garage area, but also just because Kenseth seems to be having such a good time.