Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing hard to beat this season
By Darrell WaltripFoxSports
Well, Matt Kenseth had another amazing run last Sunday at Kansas Speedway. There was some precise driving from Matt with someone hot on your bumper. In typical Matt Kenseth-style, he sat on a hot stove and peed ice water. At the end of the day, by golly, it won him another race. This time it was from the pole, no less.
The Kansas victory was Kenseth's second NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the year. This win was similar to the one at Las Vegas earlier this year, where Matt did almost the same thing. It was his second top-five finish and fourth top-10 finish of the year. It also jumped Matt two spots in the points to the eighth spot.
NASCAR took issue with the engine in the car, though, on Wednesday and assessed Kenseth and his team major penalites for a lightweight cooling rod. Kenseth was penalized 50 points and crew chief Jason Ratcliff was penalized $200,000 and suspended for six points races. Joe Gibbs Racing has appealed the penalties.
Throughout this season, a lot of folks have been asking me if I felt that after Matt moved from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2012, if he has changed. It’s my opinion that he has changed. He just seems to be a happier, more relaxed Matt Kenseth. I also see a much more confident Matt Kenseth.
The fact that Matt, 41, was willing to make a change in organizations at his age and leave the security of Roush Fenway Racing, where he has spent his whole career, speaks volumes about Matt. He stepped out of that No. 17 Roush car and went to a new organization. I wonder how many people he knew in the building or if he even knew his new crew chief.
I firmly believe it was time to make a change. See, the secret to longevity is peace of mind. You have to know wherever you go, to endure one of these long 36-race schedules that you are going to feel comfortable and content. The Bible tells us to be content in our circumstances. That’s hard to do if you are in a situation that you’re not happy with and can’t do anything about it.
For Matt, he was very fortunate. He had an incredible opportunity to go to work for Joe Gibbs Racing. The combination of Coach Gibbs, his son J.D. who runs the company and Matt is a marriage made in heaven in my book. They are all easy-going, yet methodical, precise and passionate about winning.
Don’t get me wrong, Matt didn’t leave a bad situation. That race team was solid. I don’t think there was anything more you could ask from Roush Fenway than what the No. 17 team had. That said, when you are part of a multi-car team and one of your teammates is more of the star and being catered to, while you are a past champion and winning races, well that hurts your feelings. That’s what I think happened over there.
I think Matt now feels not only is he being appreciated but also respected and the results are showing up on the racetrack. Matt is now the leader at Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s the guy that both Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin can go to and ask for advice. I’ve watched the three of them together and there is a genuine chemistry already between Matt, Kyle and Denny.
When you are in a situation like what Matt’s in right now, you absolutely can’t wait to get to the racetrack. Actually, you want to leave the track that you finished racing on Sunday evening and drive straight to the next track. You want that momentum to just keep going.
When you know you are in the right place at the right time, you know the sky is the limit. That’s what Matt is experiencing right now with the combination of him, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. Remember, JGR has won half the races so far this season. I know what Matt is feeling. When I left DiGard Racing to join Junior Johnson and drive that No. 11 car, I just knew it wasn’t a matter of if we would win, but more of a question of how many we would win.
I’ve always known Matt to be a complete driver. He’s always been a great person, too, and as champion represents our sport to the highest degree. This year has simply been extra impressive from Matt. His driving this year has been phenomenal. I believe he could have won the Daytona 500 had it not been for the engine failure. He very well might have won Bristol if he hadn’t gotten caught up in Jeff Gordon’s wreck.
So the Joe Gibbs organization is hot right now. Matt definitely is in the right spot at the right time and more importantly, taking advantage of it. He set a new track record last Sunday at Kansas, which was incredible. It’s the third time this year the race has been won from the pole.
This year has been all about a renewed excitement in our sport with this new Generation-6 car and we are seeing things we’ve never seen before. The drivers love the new car. The fans love the new car. Trust me, we on the television side really love the new car.
Kansas was a bit of a challenge for everyone. The drivers used the analogy of feeling like they were “riding on the edge of a razor blade.” The track had a lot of grip until you lost it. It was so easy for the car to get away from you. We saw that from Kyle Busch. I think after this past weekend, Kyle might want to skip Kansas from now on.
He lost two engines in his truck. He wrecked a couple cars. Actually his whole weekend was a total wreck. With that said, I do appreciate Kyle sitting down with me for an interview for our NASCAR on FOX broadcast. Kyle really has his act together this year and I really believe we are seeing a new Kyle Busch.
Let’s see what else happened on Sunday. Danica Patrick and driver David Gilliland had a run-in. Danica voiced her displeasure about that. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were both running great when an untimely caution cost them both.
Brad Keselowski had a lot of damage to his car. Despite that and all the controversy from last week’s penalties levied on Penske Racing, Brad and crew chief Paul Wolfe soldiered on and got a sixth-place finish.
Jeff Gordon wrecked his primary car in qualifying and raced in a backup car. That’s really something you don’t see every day. So there was a lot going on at Kansas, but now the question becomes what is going to happen at Richmond on Saturday night.
Kyle has won the last four consecutive spring races, so that will be a storyline to follow to see if he can bounce back from a lousy weekend at Kansas and keep his streak going at Richmond. Will Denny Hamlin be back in the No. 11 car this weekend?
If Denny’s back racing, Matt’s red hot and Kyle dominates Richmond again, it would seem the Roush, Hendrick, Penske and Childress teams of the world are all racing for second place right now. They’ve got their work cut out for them to try to catch and beat those three JGR cars. It’s a dominating organization with all the pieces seemingly falling into place at the right time. It just doesn’t get much better than that.