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Matt Kenseth’s win on Sunday night in Chicago was a long time coming, and not just because the race ended nearly six hours later because of a long weather delay.
Though this was Kenseth’s sixth trip to Victory Lane, that number is now equal to the number of wins he had the last three seasons combined while he was still driving for Roush Fenway Racing. To say his move over to Joe Gibbs Racing has been successful would be a vast understatement, and his win at Chicago has him set up well to win his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
In fact, over the past two seasons, the driver that won the opening Chase race went on to win the championship.
So what is it about Joe Gibbs Racing that has been so special for Kenseth? It’s not like RFR is a slouch race team, let alone championship worthy. Any success that Kenseth had prior to this year was done there.
But anyone who thought Kenseth had simply passed his prime was proven drastically wrong this season, with now a total of six victories to his credit, the most of any other driver this season.
But he’s not alone in his success, and this may be where the real answer to this supposed racing magic lies. His now teammate Kyle Busch also has four victories to his credit this season, which is equal only to Jimmie Johnson in win totals for the year.
In fact, the only team that has only been able to keep up with JGR this season is that Hendrick Motorsports team and, to a lesser extent, the No. 48 team of Johnson.
Now, I’m not for one second sitting here and making a prediction that either Busch or Kenseth will win the championship this year. Despite the fact that history, facts, and statistics are stacked in Kenseth’s favor on this title, there are too many variables in play with this Chase in order to do so accurately. With NASCAR changing rules every time you turn around, I’m certainly not going to go down that road.
Still, it begs the question as to whether or not JGR is becoming NASCAR’s new powerhouse, if they aren’t already there. The only real competitive team that HMS had in the Chase was Johnson. Earnhardt cruised his way in on consistency but is absolutely not going to play a role in this championship either, and Gordon didn’t even make the Chase without a mercy ruling from NASCAR. Even without the Bowyer spin, Gordon would have barely gotten in by the skin of his teeth anyway.
Now, you can make an argument for Kasey Kahne, who has two wins this season and has the potential to get to Victory Lane. However, the inconsistency is what has kept this team from living up to its potential and running with their teammate.
Though, perhaps you could make a similar argument for Busch.
At the very least, these two teams are equal and are going to put on quite a show if the current trend continues. But if HMS doesn’t start picking up the pace with at least two of those teams, JGR is going to quickly become the top team in this sport.
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