Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships: 1 (2003)
11th Chase Appearance, Best Finish of 2nd (2006, 2013)
Regular Season Recap: After a seven-win season in 2013, observers expected Kenseth to be one of the first drivers to lock into this year’s Chase with a victory. But with JGR suffering from a lack of power compared to the dominant Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske, Kenseth instead made the postseason by pretty much doing what got him the 2003 title and what he’s always done over the course of his career: Racking up Top-5s and Top-10s. Squeezing out solid finishes when wins aren’t in the cards is perhaps his greatest quality as a driver.
Chris’ Take: Winning is the fastest way to move through the new Chase, but failing that, you have to be able to run towards the front. We don’t have to worry about the latter with Kenseth when he avoids trouble. But while his consistency can take him through the first two rounds of the Chase, it may not be enough to get him to Homestead with a chance at his second Cup title. Toyota’s overall power deficit has Kenseth and his JGR teammates entering the postseason at a disadvantage. Because of that, I can’t help but think that the Eliminator Round is as far as Kenseth will get.
Jerry’s Take: I don’t know why, but I’ve been saying this for probably the last seven or eight weeks: Matt Kenseth is to the 2014 season that Tony Stewart was to the 2011 campaign. Stewart did not win one race in the 26-race regular season, and then went on to win a record five races in the Chase and en route to the championship. We think Kenseth is cut from the same mold. If he goes into the Chase without a win, we think he’s good for at least two or three in the playoffs. Kenseth is one of those drivers who definitely steps up his game in the Chase, and this could be the biggest step-up that he may ever face.
Tony’s Take: An odd second year for Kenseth, whose win drought has been one of the stories of the year. Always the measure of consistency, but this format doesn’t really set up for a title run. Yet if there’s anyone who could advance through this new Chase purely on consistency, Kenseth’s your guy. If he finishes high enough ahead of the other Chasers throughout the first few rounds and bags a win, he could well end up advancing through to Homestead. I wouldn’t bet on it happening, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Matt Kenseth’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – 1 win, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – 1 win, 7 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s in 29 starts
Dover (1 mile) – 2 wins, 14 Top-5s, 20 Top-10s in 31 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – 2 wins, 6 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 17 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – 2 wins, 9 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 30 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – 1 win, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 29 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – No wins, 4 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 29 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – 2 wins, 13 Top-5s, 17 Top-10s in 24 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – 1 win, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 24 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – 1 win, 4 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 14 starts