NASCAR

Kenseth, team must return to basics

Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth (right) stands with crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the Sprint Cup garage.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 just had a horrible weekend in Phoenix. There has to be huge disappointment in that camp right now because the odds are really stacked against them being able to win the championship now. They had taken the points lead into the Chase and, remember, went right out there and won the first two Chase races. There was a period there where they looked unstoppable.

Jimmie Johnson came on very strong and Matt seemingly held up. It was at Texas where, despite a solid run and solid finish, we started to see their hopes waver a bit. Maybe it was the pressure, I'm not sure, but for some reason mistakes that we hadn't seen from that team cropped up. Matt had two pit road speeding penalties in five races. That's just so uncharacteristic of Matt.

Don't get me wrong. Matt is a past champion, and used to this kind of pressure. The difference, however, is he won under the old points system, before there was a Chase format, and actually with four or five races to go that season, Matt had the championship pretty much locked up.

Unfortunately, anything that could happen to that No. 20 car happened at Phoenix at the worst possible time of the season. They had an ill-handling race car that they could never get driving well. The car wasn't very good on restarts. Even their pit calls seemed to lack confidence. You could just hear the indecision in their voices. One pit stop had an air hose under a tire.

I can't be as bold to say it's impossible for Matt to still win the championship. The reality, though, is Jimmie only has to finish 23rd or better to automatically clinch the championship. With that said, if you go look at the season statistics, you will find there were five races during the season that Jimmie did finish worse than 23rd. So if I am the No. 20 team, I am holding onto hope that it can happen. The flip-side is that 30 times out of our 35 races to date, Jimmie did finish 23rd or better. So again, the reality is that Matt is facing some long odds.

If I were them, I would tell myself the championship is gone. I would tell everyone that we'¿¿re going to Homestead, and get back to racing like the way we did earlier this season. It was that kind of racing that got them to a season-high seven Victory Lanes. Who knows? Last time we were at Homestead the No. 48 car tore a drivetrain up.

If I were a driver, I would be asking myself, "What does Jimmie Johnson do?" If I were still a crew chief, I would ask myself, "What does Chad Knaus do?" I can tell you what you don't see them doing and that is running in the Camping World Truck Series or the Nationwide Series. Jimmie and Chad are laser-locked on one thing. They set their focus on being the best of the best in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Guess what? After Sunday, barring any major catastrophe, those two and their team will celebrate their sixth championship in eight years.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson

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