Matt Kenseth pulled off a feat accomplished only once before. And in doing so, may have laid the foundation for a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship – a full decade after his first.
Kenseth won the opening Chase for the NASCAR Sprint race as the No. 1 seed – only Mark Martin in 2009 had done that before. Now he looks to join another all-time great, Terry Labonte. Labonte’s the only driver that had gone a decade or more between his first and second championships (his first came in 1984; second in 1996).
If history serves as a blueprint, that very well may happen. Since Chicagoland became host of Chase race No. 1, the race winner went on to win the championship each year (Tony Stewart in 2011; Brad Keselowski in 2012).
Two major roadblocks stand in Kenseth’s way, however. First, and most immediately: New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kenseth has just two top 10s in the last 11 races. His average finish over that span: 18.6. On the bright side, all but one of those finishes were in Roush Fenway Racing equipment. His lone race with Joe Gibbs Racing resulted in a ninth-place finish, in July.
Second: The rest of the Chase field put Kenseth on notice – he may be the favorite, but in no way will he breeze to a second championship
To wit: The top six in Sunday’s race were all Chase drivers. And even with the max-point win, Kenseth’s points lead grew by a mere five points – from three to eight over Kyle Busch. And he didn’t pad his cushion over many other Chasers either. The top seven are all separated by just 25 points.
So, give Round 1 to Kenseth. But the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Busch – the second and third seed entering the Chase, respectively – aren’t far behind.
Busch finished second at New Hampshire in June, leading 53 laps. And Johnson has 11 top 10s in the last 13 races, including a runner-up finish in last year’s New Hampshire Chase race.