With Matt Kenseth’s third win on the year last week at Kansas, the Roush-Fenway’s senior (and departing) wheelman continued to resurrect his 2012 Chase.
After starting his Chase trek with a languishing feel, the future Joe Gibbs driver has proceeded to win two out of the last three races and looks poised to make a run at a top-five points finish.
That is, of course, not the most satisfying of results considering his high-flying (and points-leading) ways in the regular season, but it’s certainly a step forward from being mired around 11th in the Chase standings, and gives way to this week’s debate: With Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot festooning his future, will Matt Kenseth continue to close out the 2012 season with force?
That’s the issue at stake in this episode of Bonus Points, a weekly feature in which Sam Salo and Luke Krmpotich debate a current issue in NASCAR. Each writer will assign a “flag” value to his opinion on the question: checkered flag if it’s a slam dunk, green flag if he’s mostly convinced, yellow flag if it’s a toss-up, red flag if he’s pessimistic, or black flag if he’s dead set against the idea.
Luke: Matt Kenseth, otherwise known as Mr. Consistency, was anything but with the arrival of the 2012 Chase.
This came as quite a surprise to many, as the No. 17 was the most consistent car throughout the regular season, leading the points despite just one win (reminiscent of his championship 2003 campaign nearly a decade ago). But for whatever reason, misfortune and bad runs harried Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle as soon as the Chase began, almost immediately putting an end to the title hopes of the Roushketeers.
Many observers, myself included, speculated that Kenseth’s impending departure for the greener grass at Joe Gibbs Racing must have been the cause of the wheels falling off the No. 17 team. Lack of focus, loss of synergy, or whatever specific cause you wanted to pinpoint, it was mentioned as a possible cause for the drastic free fall in performance from Kenseth and his team.
However, such speculation was proved completely and utterly wrong when Kenseth went out and won Talladega in impressive fashion, and then followed that up with an equally emphatic win at Kansas. The fact that Kenseth is still an impossible number of points behind leader Brad Keselowski gives us an ironic scenario: we have a Chase driver playing spoiler by stealing multiple races from the guys fighting for the title; and making it doubly ironic is the aforementioned fact that Kenseth himself led the points and was considered a prime contender for a championship run until his bad luck at the beginning of the Chase.
Will Kenseth continue his winning ways in the waning days of his tenure at RFR? Sure, why not!
He’s running as well as anyone, and some of the tracks coming up are among his best, especially Texas and Homestead. I give the green flag of affirmation to the likelihood of Kenseth taking home the checkered at least one more time before hanging up the wheel Jack Roush handed him well over a decade ago and moving on to JGR next season.
Sam: From all angles, it certainly appears that way. Roush Fenway Racing, beyond Matt Kenseth’s recent Chase woes, is traditionally an undulating organization that is somewhat prone to changes of the performance tide.
For whatever reason, the tide was suddenly low at the start of the Chase after a generally consistent and potent regular season. Both Kenseth and Biffle, the regular season points leaders for most of the way, more or less stumbled and bumbled out of the Chase gates. Now, Biffle is performing up to par again (barring his Kansas wreck, which he suffered while running in the top-five), and Kenseth, of course, is winning somewhat prolifically all of a sudden.
It is most unfortunate that Kenseth, a prime title favorite this year, suffered a low tide to start the Chase. However, he is indeed proving that he is devoting as much passion and fire to the close of his Roush tenure as to the unfurling of his Joe Gibbs future next season.
The month or so of struggling speed from Kenseth and Co. might remain an anamoly, but he has rapidly proved that his remaining month of Cup racing is bound to be a worthy four weeks. A championship is almost certifiably out of reach, but Kenseth appears to have put that fact, and his lame-duck status, out of mind and racing heart. With Roush Fenway on the performance rebound all of a sudden, Kenseth will indeed be able to ride the closing wave of his twilight month at his racing alma mater.
He might be turning orange next year, but for now, Kenseth is simply black and white; look for the checkered flag, both here in our opining, and on the track in the month ahead.
Final Analysis: It’s a green flag for Kenseth’s hopes of winning one of the final four races of the season, his final four in the No. 17 Ford that he has driven to Victory Lane so many times in his checkered career.
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