Sprint Cup Driver Review: Matt Kenseth

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After talking about the big stories and ranking our Top 10 drivers from the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, my colleague Tony DiZinno and I are now going to start taking a look back on how each of the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders fared this past year.

Next up, the championship runner-up in 2013 and this year’s Sprint Cup wins leader, Matt Kenseth…

MATT KENSETH
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2013 Stats: Second Place, Seven Wins, 12 Top-5s, 20 Top-10s, 1,783 Laps Led
Average Start: 8.7
Average Finish: 12.1
DNFs: 3

Estrada Says: When Kenseth left longtime home Roush Fenway Racing and landed at Joe Gibbs Racing, did anyone imagine that Kenseth would be going blow-for-blow with Johnson for the championship? Or that he’d collect seven wins in his first year with JGR? If Kenseth’s exodus from Roush Fenway was surprising, it paled in comparison to how surprising it was to see him have such a wildly successful season. Yes, he and the No. 20 camp would’ve loved to have had the next-to-last race at Phoenix back (especially after Kenseth finished second in the finale one week later at Homestead), but despite their near-miss on a Sprint Cup title, their future together appears to look very bright indeed.

DiZinno Says: Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing clicked immediately. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff formed a bond almost from the off, with their first win at Las Vegas in just their third race together coming after a great run in the Daytona 500 that was spoiled by an engine failure. Kenseth didn’t have the TRD unreliability that his teammates did on the whole, and additionally, they had the resiliency to bounce back from penalties assessed following the win at Kansas in April. Sometimes a change of scenery does you really good and not to say Kenseth had plateaued at Roush after 13 years, but he seemed to have a new lease on life in 2013. The weekly performance – Phoenix in November aside – proved Kenseth remains firmly at the top of his game in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.