If you would have told me that Matt Kenseth would have been winless headed into the ninth race of the season and on the outside looking into the playoffs, I would have called you crazy. But, that is the case, he currently sits 18th in points with just one top 10 finish this season.
Last year at this time, Kenseth was sitting pretty with four top 10 finishes, one of those being a win at Bristol, which solidified his spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
So, what happened? It’s certainly not a team performance issue as Job Gibbs Racing has proven that it is one of the top teams in NASCAR, if not the top. Kyle Busch has won two races, Edwards captured a checkered flag at Bristol and Hamlin won the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500. But, Kenseth can’t seem to put solid runs together. From an outside perspective, it looks as though he has a great relationship with his crew chief Jason Ratcliff, they’ve seen victory lane numerous times together, so what’s the issue?
Here’s my take:
Last season, Kenseth was the first driver in NASCAR history to receive a two-race suspension. The suspension followed his actions at Martinsville Speedway when he had a “tire go down” entering into turn one, where he then took out race leader Joey Logano.
But, let’s flashback to a couple of weeks prior. Kenseth was leading at Kansas, Kenseth throws the block two times on Logano. Following that, Logano heads into turn one and races Kenseth hard into the corner, Kenseth gets spun out. That incident severely hurt Kenseth’s chance of advancing to the next round of the Chase.
Next stop, Talladega. One of Kenseth’s last shots at advancing into the next round of the chase. Harvick causes mayhem on a final restart resulting in the field piling up, Kenseth is involved, therefore eliminating him from the next round of the chase.
Following Talladega, the incident between Kenseth and Logano happened at Martinsville and Kenseth then gets suspended. He said he had a tire go down, but we all knew that it was retaliation stemming from Kansas. He felt Logano took something from him at Kansas, therefore, Kenseth took something from Logano at Martinsville, an eye for an eye, or as it’s called in NASCAR, “driver code.”
This begs the question, could Kenseth’s slow start in 2016 all stem from his issues with Logano last season? Listen, Kenseth is a professional on and off the track, he’s a champion at NASCAR’s highest level and he’s one of the most respected drivers in the garage. However, he’s also human and whether he’d want to admit it or not, he might currently be having a hangover from last season’s incidents.
Kenseth will find victory lane this season. This weekend at Richmond might be the perfect place for him to bounce back since he won there last season. But, for now, he’s on the outside looking into the playoffs.