Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch leading Jimmie Johnson in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
By Jeff Hammond FoxSports
What we saw out of Joe Gibbs Racing told us a lot Sunday evening at Chicago in a rainy start to the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase. Matt Kenseth got his sixth win of the year and teammate Kyle Busch came home in the runner-up position. They are both that way in the Chase points, as well.
We also got a clear picture that the Toyota camp seemingly has their engine issues behind them. This was the kind of performance we saw a lot early on this season. They definitely are a force to be dealt with in the Chase if they keep running like that.
We knew Matt Kenseth was going to be a title contender despite this being his first year with JGR. He set that tone very early this season. Then came the Toyota engine problems, and Matt went through a long up and down period there in the middle of the season. We simply couldn’t give him the nod as the one to beat in the Chase, because of so many mechanical issues.
Like the old saying, “timing is everything,” the No. 20 camp, in the first race of the Chase when it mattered the most, showed they made the right adjustments. Matt led 89 laps Sunday — the most of any driver in the 43-car field.
So here we go, because Jimmie Johnson’s worst nightmare just showed up in the No. 20 and the No. 18. I think the stage is set for what we all have anticipated to be a great Chase. Between those two cars, they have won 10 out of the 27 races that’s been run.
If you had to pick a favorite between the No. 20 and the No. 18, I think the nod definitely has to go to Matt, simply from an experience standpoint. He’s raced longer. He’s won a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, which still eludes Kyle. So Matt understands the pressure.
Don’t for a second think I don’t believe Kyle can be our 2013 Sprint Cup champion. I know how bad Kyle wants it. He feels last year should have been his year. He ran a great Chase last year; the only problem was, he wasn’t in the Chase last year because of too many mechanical issues. He was on the outside looking in, but this year he is hungrier than ever and now off to a great start.
This is the year Kyle needs to redeem himself. I think he learned a lot last year by not making the Chase but running so well those last 10 races. I’ve said most of the year that I thought the No. 18 was going to be a major pain in Jimmie Johnson’s side in trying to win his sixth championship.
Now you have teammates that are setting the bar for the No. 48 to reach. Tell me the last time you’ve seen that? These last few years it’s always been the No. 48 as the gold standard. So it’s going to be really interesting to see how it all plays out.
I think Kyle has a legitimate shot to take what he learned last year and parley that into his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. After what we saw Sunday night in Chicago, will his youth and enthusiasm win out over the wily old veteran that he has in a teammate?