Why does it seem Matt Kenseth is off to a slow start this season?
Statistically, that’s certainly not the case.
Entering Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has more top-10 finishes, more poles and is higher in the Sprint Cup series standings than he was one year ago.
What he doesn’t have is a win. It’s a notable absence for two reasons – Kenseth led the series in wins last season (seven) and thanks to NASCAR’s change to the championship Chase format this season, wins have become the most important barometer for determining a team’s ability to contend for the series title.
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One year ago after six races, Kenseth had scored a victory at Las Vegas but had two finishes of 35th or worse and was 10th in points.
Kenseth is now second in the series standings behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., has four top 10s and won the pole at California.
“I’ve been asked a few times about having a slow start, and we’re like nine points out of the lead. So, it’s kind of funny the way it works,” Kenseth said. “I feel confident. I feel good.”
Kenseth entered the spring Texas race with confidence last season, especially with a victory on a 1.5-mile track already in hand. But Kenseth – who led the second-most laps in the series last season – didn’t lead a single lap in this race and finished 12th.
“I had a ton of confidence coming in here last year, especially feeling like it was probably one of my best tracks personally through the last whatever 10 or 12 years or whatever,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence coming in here, and we didn’t run as good in the first race as we thought we should have.
“I feel like it’s been a little more challenging this year with the teams to get caught up with these new rules because your set-ups are just different. We don’t have the same baseline we had last year.
“I feel like every week we keep improving, and we keep getting closer.”
Kenseth and the other two Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have had some difficulty with NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format, but even that showed vast improvement last weekend at Martinsville, Va., when Hamlin won the pole.
Kyle Busch picked up a victory at California, so taken as a whole, the JGR organization is in just as good a position – or better – at this point than a year ago.
Kenseth has led 222 laps so far this season, down about 30 percent from last year’s total at this point in the season (319).
If Cup series championship aspirations were still quantified mostly by consistency, Kenseth would now appear in better shape in his title hunt than a year ago, when he fell just short of his second series title.
“I think all the racing has been good this year so far, and I think that everybody’s still learning these new set-ups and the ride height (rule) and the added downforce and all that stuff,” Kenseth said.
“Everybody’s still gaining on all of that. I would expect the competition would keep getting closer together for the next month or two while everybody’s kind of still figuring it out.”