He wasn’t the dominant car, it wasn’t his favorite track, but at the end of the day, Matt Kenseth stood in victory lane at Kentucky Speedway celebrating his fourth win of the 2013 season – and sending a message to the competition.
Gambling on the final stop of the day, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called for fuel only and sent his driver out with the lead. When Jimmie Johnson spun on the ensuing restart, it was Kenseth’s race to lose.
Taking the win in surprising fashion, Kenseth halted a string of poor finishes over the past five weeks.
After winning at Darlington, the No. 20 team was 15th in Charlotte, had motor issues at Dover and finished 40th, was 25th at Pocono, rebounded with a 6th at Michigan, then settled for a 19th at Sonoma.
Turning the corner on Sunday, Kenseth also notched his series-leading fourth win of the season. With nine races left before the Chase field is reset, the No. 20 team is positioning itself as the No. 1 seed heading into the final 10 events.
In their first season together, Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing started off with a bang. Theirs was one of the strongest cars in Daytona until the engine failed.
Then Kenseth and JGR rattled off three wins and seven top-10 finishes in the next 10 races.
They were able to overcome a potentially season-derailing penalty handed down by NASCAR after Kansas Speedway, deal with engine issues that plagued Toyota Racing Development and remain confident through their recent struggles.
Kenseth is not prepared to rest on his laurels, however.
“You’re always trying to get it better no matter how you’re running,” he said. “Just because you’re great today doesn’t mean you’ll be great a month from now. You know, you are always trying to improve.”
While Kenseth emerged victorious on Sunday, he was certainly not the best car in the field. That honor went to points leader Johnson.
For the fourth time in five weeks, Johnson was dominant to say the least. Leading 182 of the 267 laps, the five-time champ was on his way to his fourth win of the season.
However, for the third time in those same five weeks, Johnson beat himself.
While Johnson was left wondering how it happened again, the No. 20 team sent a message to the rest of the garage that it will be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the Chase.
There is still plenty of racing left, but the No. 20 team has shown it can win, have solid points days and overcome adversity when needed.
With a former champion behind the wheel and multiple victories setting the team up for a solid spot to start the Chase, this may be the year Kenseth earns his second Sprint Cup Series title.