Matt Kenseth just might win a championship with a touch of dominance, not dullness.
Kenseth has firmly defended the style of his 2003 championship, stating his one-win season in the final year before NASCAR made the move to the playoff-style Chase format was as meaningful as all the titles collected by Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart.
He probably won’t have to justify anything about his Cup run this season. There are plenty of checkered flags.
Kenseth made it 2 for 2 in the Chase, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to win Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He followed his win in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener at Chicagoland with his series-high seventh victory of the season. Kenseth made his 500th career start and built a 14-point lead over Busch before the series shifts to Dover.
One win or seven, Kenseth will take a title any way he can.
“If you’re fortunate enough to win a championship, or another championship, I don’t think there’s a bad way to win it,” he said. “I know it still gets brought up because it was the last year without the Chase and we won once race. But I was real proud of what we did that year. It was tough to accomplish.”
Kenseth was paired with owner Jack Roush for more than a decade and won 22 races, a pair of Daytona 500s and the 2003 championship. He’s having a career year in his first season at JGR, obliterating his previous season best for wins — five in 2002.
“I don’t feel like I’m necessarily a better driver than what I was last year,” he said. “Certainly, things are different.”
Just a little bit.
His gamble to change teams has been a success, and Kenseth’s eyes glistened as tears rolled down his cheeks in Victory Lane. He reached for a big white towel to wipe them away.
Neither side could have expected this kind of run.
“We’ve known Matt for a long time but, in all reality, we wouldn’t have guessed seven wins,” team President J.D. Gibbs said.