Updated: September 23, 2013, 1:57 PM ET

Matt Kenseth 2-for-2 In Chase For The Cup

Sprint Cup: Kenseth has Gibbs team humming

By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

As career moves go, Matt Kenseth's transfer from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing is making him look like a genius.

Since winning the Sprint Cup championship in 2003 with Roush, Kenseth was always in the hunt but rarely at the very front.

Informed in the summer of 2012 that he wouldn't be returning to Roush because of a lack of sponsorship, Kenseth found he still had plenty of market value when he was quickly signed by the Gibbs organization.

Coach Joe Gibbs knows a thing or two about teamwork and chemistry, and he recognized that his NASCAR Cup Series team had suffered from a lack of driver leadership since the departure of Tony Stewart into team ownership more than four years ago.

Gibbs had a strong three-driver lineup, but Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano didn't have the experience often necessary to steady the ship in rough times.

Matt Kenseth
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesWho's No. 1 in the championship standings? After two Chase races, it's clearly Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth filled that void, and in a win-win scenario, the move to Penske Racing was a success for Logano, who has produced his most successful Sprint Cup campaign to date, including a first-time berth in the Chase.

But Logano's accomplishments this year pale in comparison to Kenseth's. The Wisconsin native has earned a career-high seven wins this year, including back-to-back victories to kick off the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway and in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Kenseth leads the Cup Series by 14 points over teammate Busch, with six-time champion Jimmie Johnson third (minus-18).

Kenseth's 2003 Cup championship, achieved through consistency with only one race win, was what helped prompt NASCAR to create the playoff-like Chase for the championship. With two wins in the two Chase races to date this year, and four upcoming events on the Gibbs team's bread-and-butter tracks, NASCAR's longtime Mr. Consistent is suddenly the man to beat -- week in and week out.

He certainly wasn't expecting to back up his Chicagoland with another triumph at New Hampshire, where Kenseth's last top-5 finish came way back in 2005.

"I was a little bit worried about this weekend, more so than some tracks just because it has been a tough track for me," Kenseth explained in the postrace news  conference. "But we had a great day of practice on Friday and were really, really fast in race trim. So I felt really confident with my car today.

"But to have a fast car and to be able to do all the right things with adjustments and strategy and pit stops and all that stuff and be out front and win is two different things," he added. "I'm thankful to be part of this group, and it just honestly doesn't really seem real that we won yet today."

Although Hamlin had a poor season that was compromised by an early injury, Busch is off to his best-ever start in the Chase. His pair of second-place finishes have him second in points to teammate Kenseth.

JGR president J.D. Gibbs thinks that the calming presence of Kenseth has had a positive impact on "Wild Thing."

"If you get the right people in your organization, the rest is easy," Gibbs said. "Those guys, Matt and Jason [Ratcliff, crew chief], have really jelled well. They've helped Kyle out and Denny, so it's just been fun to be a part of that whole process. We have three great drivers who communicate well with each other and work well together, and Matt kind of leads that off.

"Honestly, we've known Matt for a long time, but in all reality, we wouldn't have guessed seven wins," Gibbs added. "He just has such a good leadership role that Kyle and Denny really pick his brain, listen to him. It's good for our whole organization."

Kenseth was unusually emotional in Victory Lane after winning his 500th Sprint Cup Series start. He led a race-high 106 laps on the way to his 31st Cup race win.

The only other NASCAR driver to win his 500th start was Richard Petty, back in 1970.

"I'm just happy," Kenseth said. "I've said this over and over and you guys are probably sick of hearing it, but it's just been an unbelievable year. It's just been an amazing blessing to be part of this group, and I'm happy to have the success we're having.

"But even without that, honestly I've just made a lot of friendships and I really feel at home here. I just really enjoy being part of it, and when you can have success on top of it, obviously that makes it even more fun."

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series: Dover International Speedway, where Kenseth is a two-time winner -- most recently in the spring 2011 race.

The Rundown: New Hampshire


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.