For the third-straight time, Matt Kenseth appeared to have a car capable of winning on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Yet for the third-straight time, he ended the day outside of the top 10.
Despite popular belief, none of the results stem from bad luck.
That’s been the calling card for Kenseth’s fans to date in 2016. Everything’s been attributable to ‘bad luck.’ They’ve called Kenseth ‘snake-bitten,’ ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unlucky.’
However, a closer look into the results show that luck’s had nothing to do with it.
It’s hard to believe things have gotten to this point. Kenseth was in prime position to win his third career Daytona 500 just two weeks ago, leading until the exit of Turn 4 on the final lap of the season-opening race. His decision to try to block teammate Denny Hamlin ultimately cost him any resemblance of a solid finish, as lost momentum sent him reeling to a 14th-place finish.
What rotten luck. There was nothing else he could have done, right?
Well … Not exactly.
Kenseth made the decision to jump up to the high lane. He alone failed to make the block and left himself without a drafting partner for the final stretch. Sure, his spotter told him what was going on, but he made that decision.
The next week, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kenseth again appeared to have a great car. The Wisconsin native led early in the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500, and looked poised for a great run when he came in for a routine green-flag pit stop.
Unfortunately, the stop wasn’t quite routine.
Kenseth’s fuel man was filling the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s No. 20 Toyota when he elected to place a wedge wrench on top of the car. For any other crewman, that would have been fine. However, the fuel man isn’t allowed to do anything but supply fuel when the catch can is engaged with the car.
The moment NASCAR noticed this, Kenseth was issued a penalty. Incredibly, the team somehow failed to make Kenseth aware of this until six laps later, one lap after NASCAR had displayed the black flag with white stripes to him, signifying that he was no longer being scored.
Suddenly, a dominant car was rendered useless. Stuck two laps down, Kenseth could do little more than scrape to a 19th-place finish.
Once again, the excuses came pouring in. Tons of teams have been doing this, right? NASCAR hasn’t cracked down on it before!
Sorry, rules are rules.
Heading into Las Vegas this weekend, as most people do, Kenseth seemed assured that his luck would turn around. Once again, he had a fast car. The 2003 Cup champion led nine laps in the early going, and ran inside of the top 10 for most of the day at the 1.5-mile oval.
Unfortunately, this story once again failed to have a story book ending.
Driving for position shortly after a late restart, Kenseth lost control of his No. 20 with 43 laps remaining. He slid up the track, directly into the path of Chase Elliott, who blasted into Kenseth’s rear.
Both cars were totaled.
Kenseth ended the day in 37th place, dropping him from 12th to 20th in series points.
This time, the excuses had run out.
Coming off of one of his best seasons ever, Kenseth entered 2016 with momentum and high hopes. If it weren’t for a few false moves, those hopes could have translated into results.
Unfortunately, Kenseth’s team has been unable to get out of their own way.
Despite leading 96 laps thus far, fourth among all drivers, and having an average starting position of sixth, second only to Kurt Busch, Kenseth has only 56 points coming out of Las Vegas. Teammate Kyle Busch has led 37 fewer laps and has failed to get to victory lane, but by virtue of finishing each race up front holds the points lead with 116 points.
With two Daytona 500 victories and the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, there’s no doubt that Kenseth knows how to excel at the highest level. With the speed his No. 20 JGR team is showing, there’s little doubt that he could make his way to victory lane soon. However, first the team needs to quit making mental mistakes and provide some results.
And as for luck?
Stop using it as an excuse. These wounds are self-inflicted.
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