NASCAR Spring Cup 2013: Reactions Following Matt Kenseth Win at STP 400
Kasey Kahne almost got him, but the smooth, calm demeanor of Matt Kenseth did not waver as he nabbed his second win of the year at the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
The race itself was an entertaining one with a fair share of accidents, close battles and amazing racing on restarts, a testament to the new Generation-6 car. The competition is better than ever.
Kansas gave us a little bit of everything, and with the unpredictability of the Crown Royal 400 night race at Richmond looming, this week will be full of stories. Here are a few.
Clean Air Is Everything
It was evident at Kansas and at Texas the week before: Clean air can make you Superman.
Clean air is always good, because whoever has the clean air is leading the race. Matt Kenseth led 163 of the possible 267 laps at Kansas while not necessarily having the fastest car. Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and even Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may have had better cars throughout the duration of the race, but Kenseth had the lead and the clean air, which made it almost impossible for him to lose.
The Gen-6 car is offering exciting racing, but nary does a driver pass the leader under green.
Yes, many passes were made on restarts, but not necessarily for the lead. Kenseth's winning pass was in the pits. It will be interesting to see if clean air is as important in Richmond as is was at the two previous larger tracks.
Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe Are Powerful
Who'd have thought Brad Keselowski would have finished sixth? Especially after his horrible start, probably no one.
As the Blue Deuce crossed the line under the checkers, the whole No. 2 Penske team let out a breath of relief and offered smiles. It was a job well done for NASCAR's newest powerhouse team, led by Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe.
It's a tandem which wins on speed, luck and strategy, not necessarily in that order, which was evident in Kansas. While the No. 2 didn't win, a sixth-place finish is outstanding considering Keselowski's bumper was gone, his left-rear quarter-panel was gone and the team spent the first half of the race trapped a lap down.
Keselowski and Wolfe are the new Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus.
The last three pole winners have all went on to win the race: Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville, Kyle Busch at Texas and now Matt Kenseth at Kansas.
As we already explored, clean air is valuable. In addition to that, though, is pit positioning. Winning the pole also gives a team first choice for pit stall selection, which almost always translates to the first overall pit position at the exit of pit road.
Through eight races, the average starting position for the winners is just a hair over sixth. Matt Kenseth's eighteenth-place start at Las Vegas was the furthest back any winner has come this season.
This week at Richmond, a short track should show more of the same.
When Will Denny Return?
On Fox's broadcast at Kansas, Denny Hamlin expressed the possibility of returning this week at Richmond, one of his best tracks.
He described it as a 50-50 shot in an interview with Jeff Hammond, but considering his competitiveness, the odds are probably better than that.
It is obvious Hamlin is ready to get back in the car. He's fiery and probably tired of sitting on his pit box, which allows him to do little more than social media trash talking.
It appears as if the Hamlin-Logano feud is far from over, which is even more of a reason for Hamlin to get back in the cockpit.
Favorites Continue to Emerge
Jimmie Johnson continues to pace the field in the standings while posting solid finishes, but he's not the only one contending for the championship.
Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne look like solid threats to unseat Brad Keselowski as well.
Speaking of Keselowski, he's another threat to the championship, especially considering his teams' unconventional way of utilizing strategy to win.
Kyle Busch is another worthy challenger. While his weekend in Kansas was not what he may have hoped for, there's light at the end of the tunnel as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond, one of his best tracks.
On the other end of the spectrum, is it safe to say Tony Stewart is not contending? "Smoke" is a notorious slow starter. Remember, in his championship season in 2011, he didn't win until the chase started. But he looks out of sort this time around, as does the whole Stewart-Haas team.
It's difficult to see such a strong team struggling, but they are vastly under-performing thus far.