By Matt Weaver – Matt Kenseth avoided one of the biggest concerns for any Chase top seed, spanking the field on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway en route to extending his championship lead over Kyle Busch at the start of NASCAR’s playoff.
It’s a sign that Kenseth is hitting on all cylinders following an extraordinary five-win regular season. It’s also forcing the rest of the field to look at the places where they may have to play catch-up. This weekend’s race at New Hampshire is potentially one such venue.
Despite his vast accomplishments, Kenseth may face his kryptonite in the shorter flat tracks like New Hampshire and Phoenix.
The Loudon short track has been uncompromising to the championship leader as Kenseth has failed to win in 27 attempts. In fact, he’s only scored 12 top-10s and averaged just a 14.0 finish in Loudon. It’s one of the primary reasons that Kenseth doesn’t see himself as the favorite with nine races remaining.
“I think it’s too early to really pick favorites,” Kenseth said on Tuesday. “I think there’s a ton of competition. When you look at the finishing positions last Sunday, 10 of the top 12 were all drivers in the Chase.
“You’re going to have to run really good every week to be able to beat that, because they’re in the Chase for a reason – because they’ve been the best-running cars all year. You’re going to try to figure out how to beat all of them and they’re all going to be really tough.”
While Kenseth has struggled at New Hampshire, Jimmie Johnson has dominated.
His consistency has been stellar, averaging a 7.8 finish over the past six seasons. Fellow Chasers Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon have had equal amounts of success, all having won at the Speedway and routinely finishing near the top-10.
So the start to Kenseth’s playoff was impressive but he’s not yet the favorite. Sunday will go a long way to determining who actually is.