As we’ve previewed a handful of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, most have been looking for ways to bounce back in 2017. Matt Kenseth was a restart away from battling for his second Cup Series championship.
Kenseth has consistently been a championship contender and posted a top-10 finish in the points standings in seven of the past eight seasons. He doesn’t need much help on how to have a successful season but here’s what he needs to do to close the deal in 2017.
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Have 'Lady Luck' on his side
There is a healthy portion of good fortune needed to become a NASCAR champion. If Michael McDowell doesn’t bring out a caution at Phoenix, then Kenseth might be a two-time champion. He definitely would have been a contender at Homestead.
You can’t control luck but it helps when the breaks fall your way at the right time. Kenseth’s crash was Joey Logano’s break and when Logano and Edwards collided the next week, it was Jimmie Johnson who made a championship move.
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Front of the JGR pack
This won’t be easy for Kenseth to accomplish but standing out as the front-runner among his teammates will turn more resources to his No. 20 Toyota. One of the narratives in the Chase in 2016 was how dominant Joe Gibbs Racing was in the regular season but only Carl Edwards won a race for them in the playoffs.
Edwards has stepped away, the format has changed, and if Kenseth can rack up a ton of playoff points then he’ll be the lead dog for JGR. Beating his teammates will be one of the hardest tasks to accomplish.
Lead the important laps
Kenseth led laps in 23 of 36 races in 2016 but only made it to Victory Lane twice. Unless you’re leading at the right time, those laps don’t mean much in 2017. Kenseth will surely be a favorite to win some stages and get top-10 stage points but locking up wins will be a much bigger boost to his championship hopes.
In the Chase alone, Kenseth led 458 laps in six races but failed to seal the deal with a win in any of them.
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Old, wise man
Here’s a little dose of humor that Kenseth would undoubtedly appreciate. At age 44, Kenseth will likely be the oldest driver in NASCAR this year, unless Greg Biffle lands a ride to go racing in the Cup Series. Use that experience to your advantage, Matt.
Kenseth made his Cup Series debut when new teammate Daniel Suarez was six years old. It’s time to use the knowledge of an old, wise man and get the job done with another championship in 2017.
If Kenseth wins the championship in 2017, he’ll break Terry Labonte’s record of longest time between championships (12 years) with a 14-year span between titles.
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Matt Kenseth has been listed as the man responsible for the Chase being created. His 2003 championship came with only one victory and a plethora of consistent finishes. Ryan Newman won eight races that season but finished sixth in the points standings and Jimmie Johnson was the runner-up with three wins.
This season will be the closest the points standings have been to the old format in years. Kenseth needs to consistently rack up points and build a cushion for the playoffs. If anyone can do it, it's Kenseth.