Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Dominance Thwarted by Bad Luck is a Continuing Trend for Kenseth
The past two seasons have begun similarly for Matt Kenseth. After looking poised for an impressive run, bad luck has taken the No. 20 Toyota team out of contention numerous times, and this trend continued at Richmond International Raceway.
The weekend started well for Kenseth as he captured his first pole of the season. That advantage allowed him to lead the opening 100 laps of Sunday’s race and win Stage 1, picking up his first playoff point of the season.
These laps marked the first the Wisconsin veteran has led this season, ending the longest drought to begin a season in his career.
After finishing second in Stage 2, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver remained within the top-10 for much of the second half of the Toyota Owners 400 before trouble struck in the final 50 laps. Contact with Chase Elliott off Turn 2 cut down Kenseth’s right rear tire, and its debris brought out the eighth yellow flag of the race.
While Kenseth would go a lap down, he fought back to earn the Free Pass at the next caution, but it wasn’t enough to salvage an otherwise impressive day. He finished 23rd after leading 164 laps with, arguably, the dominant car.
Despite the poor finish, Richmond marked Kenseth’s strongest performance of 2017. With Joe Gibbs Racing still looking to match the speed and strength of other teams this season, the No. 20 car leading the most laps attests to the strides being made within the organization.
Running well but ultimately having an issue take him out of contention is a situation Kenseth has become familiar with through the start of the last two seasons.
He collected five finishes outside the top-15 through the first nine races of each year. This inconsistency has been a result of crashes and issues similar to Sunday’s cut tire developing late in races.
However, Kenseth mounted a turnaround last May. He scored four consecutive top-10 finishes from Kansas to Pocono, including a victory at Dover.
While Kenseth may be suffering a good-turned-bad beginning to his season, the immediate future could spark a turnaround for the past champion.
He has won at every venue the series visits in May and the first three events of June.
That, combined with Kenseth’s prowess of joining the conversation when it counts and his inherent patient demeanor, may favor a resurgence as we approach the heart of the season.
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