Matt Kenseth wins the pole and dominates the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway
By Rick Minter
Matt Kenseth’s dominating win at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, coupled with his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last month, make it clear why Kenseth’s former car owner, Jack Roush, expressed regret when he let him get away to rival Joe Gibbs Racing.
“If I had been as vigilant and diligent and interested in that side of the business as I am on finding why a fuel pump broke or why a connection rod bearing failed or how we could get the next pound of downforce — if I had been taking care of the business side of the business as hard as I tried to take care of the technical side, I might have been able to stop that,” Roush said last summer.
But after Kenseth scored his 26th career Cup victory on Sunday by leading 163 of 267 laps at Kansas after starting from the pole, he said that Gibbs’ team is the place he feels most comfortable, and that making the move wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine. And that’s considering the fact that before joining Gibbs, he’d spent his entire career, save one race, in Roush’s No. 17 Ford.
Kenseth said the decision to change teams was his alone, with the support of his wife.
“I didn’t talk to anybody about it except for Katie,” he said. “She would never tell me what to do, necessarily pick for my profession. She would let me do that. But certainly she had a positive feeling about it, as well.
“I didn’t really tell anybody else about it. I really didn’t need to. It wasn’t really a hard decision, believe it or not.”
He said that one of the things that lured him to Gibbs was the chance to work with two highly talented Gibbs drivers — Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. He said he liked the idea of working with drivers who were different from him and different from each other.
“I think we all have different personalities, we all have a different approach to things, we all have a different way we handle things,” he said. “It’s all different. And I think that’s good.”
He said that if everyone wants and likes the same things, it’s difficult for the group to improve their overall performance.
“There are no different viewpoints to consider and to think about and to look at or a different setup or idea or a different approach to driving the race track,” he said. “That was really interesting, and I think we’ve been doing a good job of working together and talking about things.
“I think it’s really helped me become a better driver, really elevates your game when you have guys like that that can go out and win any week.”
Kenseth also said that his early season success isn’t surprising.
“I think as an organization, one of our cars — if all the stars would have aligned — could have won every race this year, if everything would have worked out,” he said. “The only place I feel like we really kind of somewhat missed it was California, and [Busch] won there.
“Other than that, we’ve had cars that have been capable of running in the top three or four every week.”
Despite his wins, Kenseth is eighth in the standings, 59 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished third at Kansas. Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff expressed confidence that his team can close the gap.
“We’re running well, and yes, we’re winning races and doing the things we need to do, but I feel like we have a lot of room to grow as far as our race car,” he said. “I feel like there’s still a lot of speed to find to be a contender in the Chase.
“We’re looking forward to it, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Kenseth’s win at Kansas from the pole marked the third straight Cup race that the top qualifier went on to win. That hasn’t happened since 1985, when Bill Elliott did it at Michigan and Darlington, with Dale Earnhardt getting both pole and win at Bristol in between.