Published September 16, 2013
I think Sunday's first race of the Chase was a statement race for Joe Gibbs Racing, with their two drivers finishing first and second. I expect them to be strong in the Chase.
Who wouldn't? Between race winner Matt Kenseth and second-place Kyle Busch, they had nine wins combined entering the Chase. You also expect them to run well at a mile-and-a-half race track. That has especially been Matt's strong suit.
I said it last week that we all entered this Chase with no clear-cut favorite. I really don't think after our first race of the Chase on a mile-and-a-half track that we can say, "OK, here are our players." What yesterday did show us is why we have the 13 teams in the Chase that we do. Of the top 12 finishers late Sunday night at Chicago, ten of them are Chase contenders. That's why they are Chase drivers.
I also said going into the Chase that you naturally have to assume the three guys who won the most races in the regular season were the odds-on favorites to be our frontrunners. They again didn't disappoint. Matt has now won his sixth race of the year. Kyle Busch, who has won four races, finished second and Jimmie Johnson, who has also won four races, finished fifth.
I think if Matt and Kyle can run well at both Loudon, N.H., this weekend and then Dover the following weekend, then the Joe Gibbs Racing statement gets awfully loud. You really have to say that 2013 has seen the re-birth of Matt Kenseth. Sure he always there in the points, he's always very consistent and will win a race or two. Matt's never been a guy to lead a bunch of laps and win a bunch of races in a single season.
All that has changed this year since Matt moved over to Joe Gibbs Racing. Sunday evening was his sixth win of the season. That's the most races he's ever won in a season in his entire career. He's qualifying up front. He's leading a ton of laps and winning a lot of races. Quite honestly, earlier this season I can think of some races he should have won and with nine races left this year, I don't really think he is done yet.
His teammate Kyle Busch has had a great season as well. The question still remains: Can Kyle go from a driver who leads a lot of laps and wins races in all three of the top NASCAR touring series, to becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion?
The Chase has always been Kyle's Achilles Heel. Ironically, with not being in the Chase last year, Kyle put together perhaps the finest last ten races he's ever run. Is this the year that Kyle puts it all together and gets over the hump to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title?