No. 17 Best Buy/Valvoline/Zest Soap Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig
Average Start: 14.2
Average Finish: 12.2
Races Led: 23
Laps Led: 875
% Laps Completed: 97.8%
Points Finish: 4th
2011 in a Nutshell
In his first full season working with Jimmy Fennig, Matt Kenseth saw a return to the stability which has been the hallmark of his career, and more importantly, a return to his winning ways after a 76-race drought. All told, Kenseth went to Victory Lane at Texas, Dover and Charlotte, and was in contention for his second series title until a blown tire at Martinsville with three races to go ended his title hopes.
Reasons to Believe
Kenseth is a smooth driver, who knows how to avoid trouble and doesn’t take unnecessary chances … He and crew chief Jimmy Fennig compliment one another nicely … Kenseth ss at his best on the mile-and-a-half tracks … He has finished fourth and fifth in the standings the last two years … Rarely, if ever, can you question Fennig’s decision-making during the race … The 2003 Sprint Cup champion doesn’t get rattled and doesn’t succumb to the pressures associated with racing for the championship … Kenseth runs great at and has multiple victories at Texas, Dover and Charlotte – all tracks in the Chase … He likes keeping a low profile and as such, has no trouble taking a backseat to teammate Carl Edwards … There is no reason to think Roush Fenway Racing won’t be as strong as they were a year ago.
Reasons to Doubt
He hasn’t won races in back-to-back seasons since 2006 and ’07 … With the exception of last year, he is typically a very poor qualifier … The lack of a fulltime sponsor is a huge concern … The perception is Jack Roush is putting his championship chips into Carl Edwards’ basket … Kenseth struggles at both Infineon and Watkins Glen and tends to get swept up in other’s messes at Daytona and Talladega … He is a free agent at the end of the year and his contract renegotiations could become a distraction.
Area of Strength: Mile-and-a-half to two-mile tracks
I am certainly no mathematician, but I do know when a driver has won 12 of 21 races on a particular kind of track, I take notice. And it’s worth noting, Kenseth has multiple victories at Texas, Charlotte, Fontana, Michigan and Las Vegas.
Area of Weakness: Road Courses
Matt Kenseth has won on tracks as diverse as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, Phoenix and just about everything in-between with one notable exception, road courses. And not only has the 2003 champ never won on a road course, in 24 combined starts, he’s never finished in the top-five.
Best-case Scenario For 2012
Flying under the radar in typical Matt Kenseth fashion, he quietly uses his trademark consistency to win a couple of times during the regular season and easily makes the Chase. In the final 10 races of the year, Kenseth wins once and top-10s everyone to death to claim his second championship.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
A slow start combined with a lack of a fulltime sponsor becomes too much of a distraction and the resulting effect has Kenseth missing the Chase for only the second time in his career.
In Their Words
“I think we performed better than Carl down the stretch, we really did. I think most races we ran better than him. At Homestead he was a tick better than us – a couple other races, but, really with David blowing up at Talladega really hurt us. That was probably a 15-spot swing and then we had Martinsville and Phoenix I wrecked out of both of those and that really hurt us, but just off of performance I thought we could outrun them. We weren’t as good as Tony, so we still need to get better, but I thought our performance was pretty good down the stretch. If we can build on that and make it a little bit better, and I can do a better job behind the wheel, I think we’re capable.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 2
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
He’s not as charismatic as Carl Edwards and doesn’t win with the same frequency as Jimmie Johnson and some others. But what Matt Kenseth does have is consistency and that can’t be ignored. If he can win a couple of races, particularly one in the Chase, there’s no reason he can’t put together a serious run and win his second championship.