It’s really not rocket science, in spite of how the talking heads want to spin it: to win a championship you must be consistent, and you must be a winner. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Kyle Busch leads the way with four wins, but finds himself in a tie with Jimmie Johnson, who this year has been remarkably consistent, but has just the singular win at Talladega.
Among the serious contenders are other drivers in similar circumstances. Kevin Harvick got hot early but has tailed off of late. Brad Keselowski is the flavor of the month, but earlier in the year his issues had no one seeing his hot streak coming. Add to that Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, two that can be magnificent one week, and mid-pack the next.
Two who may have enough of both to break through the jam in this most of competitive years are two former champions: Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth. Gordon garners plenty of headlines because of his legendary status and his Madison Avenue image.
Kenseth is Everyman. He can race hard, and isn’t afraid of contact, but off the track? He could easily pass for your tire store manager. There’s just nothing about him that screams “Look at me, look at me.”
That’s what makes his present sense of confidence all the more remarkable. “I am really confident with my team. They’ve been doing a really great job on pit road. They’ve been doing a great job with car prep and all the things it takes to be successful. I feel pretty good about it right now.” Remember this is the same guy who gets ribbed at times for having an “Eyeore” complex.
The sport draws an intense breed; however, that relative calm and steadiness lends itself to consistency. “ Yeah. I mean, I think you want that all year. I don’t think it’s a lot different in the Chase. There’s no races you want to give up on. You want to have that consistency, that chemistry and leadership. You want to be able to do that each and every week all season long from Daytona to Homestead. The Chase I think is just a continuation of that.” So much for flipping a switch.
Let’s not forget he’s been there before as the last “non-Chase” champion in 2003, with just one win. Kenseth outran the likes of “5-time,” Junior, “Super G,” “Happy,” and a red hot Ryan Newman who had eight victories by finishing 25 times in the top ten.
Further fueling his potential- aside from the FR-9 engine- is crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Kenseth was the subject pit boss roulette for a couple of seasons following the departure of Robbie Reiser, a chief with whom Kenseth has such chemistry. Of the difference Fennig makes, the driver says, “Certainly having people who have some experience, have been there before, Jimmy won the first ever championship in the Chase, so certainly having that experience, for the guys to be able to look up to him and lean on him, always helps.”
Concerning what’s ahead, nothing is being taken for granted in the 17 camp. “Things can change pretty quickly. I think everybody’s a contender to start off with.” You get the feeling he likes it that way. While flashier racers grab the headlines, Matt Kenseth just wants the strong finishes.
It’s a formula that works. His own history proves it.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include: