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2-Headed Monster: Was Matt Kenseth’s Tenure at JGR a Success?

This week’s Frontstretch debate question: Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing recently announced that the two would part ways after the 2017 season. Kenseth joined JGR at the start of 2013, amassing 14 of his 38 career wins in the No. 20 Toyota. He has finished inside the top five in the point standings twice, although he has never made the Homestead Final Four under the sport’s current playoff format.

Was the Kenseth/JGR tenure a successful one?

How Do You Measure Success?

Matt Kenseth’s tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing has been a great one. Who can argue with 14 trips to victory lane, driving for JGR at the top of its game and 61 top-10’s to date? But the question we’re debating this week is whether or not his time at JGR has been a “success,” and the definition of that varies.

Success can be defined as the accomplishment of a job or purpose. In terms of NASCAR, that can mean different things. For, say, Danica Patrick, success can mean consistently running in the top-15, with a handful of top-10’s here and there. For Matt DiBenedetto, that can mean scoring a top-15 and consistently running inside the top-20. For Jordan Anderson, it can mean just turning a lap on the race track and actually being there. For Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and others, it’s championship or bust. Anything less than a title campaign is deemed a disappointment.

Personally, I would put Matt Kenseth in that last category: the A-list drivers; the former champions; the drivers with top rides, grade-A equipment, millions of dollars in sponsorship deals, etc. The 45-year-old has accomplished a ton in his full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, 17-years worth of racing in the top division of American stock car racing. Anything less than a championship every season for Kenseth is unsuccessful in my eyes.

“I think I got some wins left in me and hopefully we can race for championships,” Kenseth said this past weekend at Kentucky Speedway. “It has not been a good year, at all. Not really up to my standards or my teams standards […] to have a shot at a championship is pretty much my focus at this point.”

Well, glad Mr. Kenseth and I are on the same page!

He’s an elite driver who can win in anything, anywhere, anytime.

That’s why I don’t consider his tenure a “success.” It was good, it was fun, and it was well worth it. But no championship = no success for a driver like Matt Kenseth.

I know 2017 is far from over, but Kenseth has yet to prove he and the No. 20 team are winners this season. Plus, with only three top-fives and six top-10 finishes to date, Kenseth’s quote rings true of not being up to the 2003 champion’s standards.

Racing during the Jimmie Johnson era hasn’t helped Matt Kenseth in his quest to notch a second championship. (Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)

Granted, lady luck has interfered with his season multiple times this season. He’s failed to finish four times due to accidents and has had other weird things happen to him. The racing Gods don’t seem to be a Matt Kenseth fan as we’re halfway through the 2017 season.

A lot can change between now and Homestead. But as long as Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson continue to do what they’re doing, Kenseth stands almost no chance of winning his second career championship. And if he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean the tenure with Coach Gibbs was a failure, but it doesn’t mean it was a wild success either.  – Davey Segal

Success? Indeed, It Was

Joe Gibbs Racing’s signing of Matt Kenseth should be deemed as a successful free agency move.

Did the pairing win a Cup title together? No, but, at the end of the day, success is measured by so much more than championship trophies.

If success is measured by titles, then someone needs to go kick Mark Martin out of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. If failing to win a title signifies that it was a failure, then you have to say that Martin’s entire tenure with Jack Roush was a failure, that Rusty Wallace’s time at Team Penske was a bust, and most importantly, that David Pearson accomplished nothing with Wood Brothers Racing.

Oh wait, those are the rides that each of those drivers are most associated with.

Championships are nice, and they certainly solidify one’s career, but they are not the only marker for success.

Kenseth’s time with JGR certainly would have been considered a greater success had he hoisted the Cup trophy in Miami at least once while he was there, but he is still leaving a great legacy for the No. 20 and leaving Erik Jones with pretty big shoes to fill.

One thing that Kenseth’s time with JGR has done is solidify his spot in the HoF and as one of the best ever.

Over his 13 full time seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth amassed 24 wins, including two Daytona 500s and the 2003 Cup title. In just five seasons with JGR, Kenseth added 14 more wins to his credit, and who is to say that he will not find his way to Victory Lane a few times this season.

Jumping from 24 career wins to 38 moved Kenseth from 32nd on the all-time wins list into a tie for 19th, and if he were to win three times this season, he would pass Tim Flock and Mark Martin.

This might not have happened had Kenseth stayed put at RFR.

If you need someone to take with you to Las Vegas, then take Kenseth with you, because he saw the writing on the wall for how bad things would get at RFR. Kenseth’s seven wins in his first season at JGR match the number of wins RFR has won as a whole since he left.

Kenseth might have won a few races had he been with RFR the past five years, but he would not have won 14, and he would not have been competing for titles the way that he has basically every season at Gibbs.

In 2013, finished runner up in an intense season-long battle with Jimmie Johnson. He had a down year in 2014, but the rest of Kenseth’s JGR run so far has consisted of mental mistakes and bad circumstances that kept him from winning a title.

Kenseth was absolutely rolling in 2015 until Joey Logano spun him out to win the playoff race at Kansas Speedway.  Had Logano raced him cleaner, or had he moved over and let Logano go by, then a second-place finish in that race would have helped his title efforts way more.

Last season, Kenseth was solidly in the Championship Four for Homestead-Miami Speedway if he netted a good finish at the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway. Instead of driving conservatively on the final restart to net a top-five, he aggressively came down on Alex Bowman, who had the inside lane on the restart. The result was a 21st place finish and another failed championship effort.

Despite those late season chokes, isn’t it still a success to say that he was there battling for the Cup trophy until the very end? That is more than a whole lot of other drivers in the field can say.

And who know, Kenseth could kick things up a gear in the second half of this season and bring home that long-sought second Cup trophy.

Another successfully trait of Kenseth’s time at Gibbs is that he has become one of the better mentors in the sport. Since Kenseth’s arrival and designation as the “old guy” at Gibbs, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have shown large leaps in maturity and have since become drivers that can mentor the ultra-young drivers JGR has in its stable now.

Your legacy is about the impact you have on the others around you, and Kenseth will long be remembered by the current and future drivers at JGR. – Michael Massie

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About Davey Segal

Davey Segal
Davey joined the site prior to the 2017 season and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the bi-weekly column "Fire on Fridays" and spearheads Frontstretchs video content. He's covered the ARCA Menards Series East and West extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as a production assistant for NBC Sports Washington.

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8 comments

  1. Avatar

    “Another successfully trait of Kenseth’s time at Gibbs is that he has become one of the better mentors in the sport. Since Kenseth’s arrival and designation as the “old guy” at Gibbs, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have shown large leaps in maturity and have since become drivers that can mentor the ultra-young drivers JGR has in its stable now.”

    Oh dear freaking God, save us all!!!!!! What the fluck????????????????????? I call total bullshit.

  2. Avatar

    Logano did race him”clean”…maybe YOUTUBE and the insane driving, nervous driving of Batty Matty would help you out a bit..with you quick to excuse and inflate the narrative of what happened two years ago. Really a normal racing day…Matty screwed up, but Logano who did not bow to Kenseth is the problem. Logano put up with the blocking crap for some time, which was his right to or not, well…he ran out of patience and held his line..and the narrative you would have thunk Logano was the worst ever, depending on what your worst ever was. The big deal with the Pajama boys is they view Logano’s normal racing as denying MATTY, his place in the next round. BULLSHIT. What about Matty doing the same bullshit the week before and Newman was a lot less patient than Logano. Newman held is line too, but, but, but..MATTY if I recall got a DNF out of that deal..TOTALLY HIS FAULT! Logano holds his line KENSETH DOES A SPIN, not a lick of body damage he finishes P 12 and LOGANO “WRECKED” him blah, blah, blah. How many times have we seen drivers holding their own? A lot. Part of racing. The hypocrisy of who they cheer for and make a big hate deal for those they don’t like is tiresome!

  3. Avatar

    I guess it depends on how you frame it. I think the championship or bust mindset is a bit too restrictive. Comparing him to all the other drivers on top tier teams (JGR, HMS, Penske, SHR, and I suppose FRR now too), I’d say 14 wins is respectable. There aren’t too many drivers that can say they won 14 races during that time period. But I would say that his 2017 year (so far) has been a bust and I can’t help wonder if his age has something to do with it (it’s well documented that most drivers’ stats decline once in their mid-40s).

    To KB’s point, it’s hard to credit Kenseth with the maturity of Busch and Hamlin when they themselves have been in the series 10+ years and are now in their 30s. Most people kind of mature naturally by the time they are in their 30s so crediting Matt is a stretch. If they were both newbies when Matt joined JGR then maybe you could make that case.

  4. Avatar

    “David Pearson accomplished nothing with Wood Brothers Racing.”

    It’s hard to win championships when you only race twenty or so times a year. Pearson was with Wood Brothers because they ran a shortened schedule. He wanted a ring for each of his sons and when he got them he stopped running for them. He won three championships in four years when they were real championships and not Brian’s idea of them. He averaged 2 wins in 11 tries, the same as Petty, on a far wider variation of tracks. What driver now can match those two?

  5. Avatar

    I agree with KB. Joey got tired of the blocking and turned Matt around. He DID NOT WRECK HIM. Could have but did not. What Matt did t Joey was juvenile and shameful. I would have parked him for telling rst of the year and put him on probation fr th enter next year