Is Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch's 1-2 Finish Sign of Things to Come in 2013 Chase?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

Sep 15, 2013; Joliet, IL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (right) celebrates in victory lane with teammate Kyle Busch (left) after winning the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

If Matt Kenseth knew the kind of success he would have by moving to Joe Gibbs Racing this season, one has to wonder if he may have left Roush Fenway Racing a lot sooner.

In what is unquestionably the most successful season of his career to date—save, perhaps, for the year he won the last Winston Cup championship (2003)—Kenseth continues to roll along like a well-oiled machine.

Not only did he win a series-leading sixth race of the season in Sunday's opener of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs, Kenseth also made it clear he doesn't plan on relinquishing his No. 1 position in the overall season standings, either.

But one thing stood out about Sunday's rain-delayed outcome—a five-hour, 20-minute race stoppage after the first 109 laps were contested earlier in the day—was not just Kenseth's path to victory, it was how Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole made a significant statement.

With the way Kenseth and JGR teammate Kyle Busch finished 1-2 in Sunday's opener, a case can be made that what we saw may be repeated a lot more in the now nine remaining Chase races.

Kenseth and Busch are poised to be the most dominating and powerful drivers and team in the playoffs.


* Of the 27 Sprint Cup races that have been contested thus far this season, Kenseth (six) and Busch (four) have combined to win 10 of those. That's nearly 40 percent of the races to date.

* With an attitude, confidence and coolness that we haven't seen from him in a long time, if ever at all, Busch appears ready to fulfill the expectations of many that have predicted he'd be a Sprint Cup champion one day.

* The way Kenseth and Busch work so well together on a race track can be construed as a thing of beauty at times. While they're both fierce competitors, they also complement each other's talent and driving style.

Sure, the other JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, has had nothing short of a miserable season—his bad luck continued Sunday when the motor in his Toyota blew up, relegating him to a 33rd-place finish. But Hamlin is still a key part of the organization and, if his luck turns around, could be a pivotal asset to allow his other two teammates to pull even further away from the rest of the 13-driver Chase field.

Busch was visibly ticked off after Sunday's race for coming in second. There's nothing he hates more, especially since he was going for a weekend trifecta, having won the Trucks race on Friday and the Nationwide Series race on Saturday. Had it not been for Kenseth, Busch would likely have swept to the second trifecta achievement of his NASCAR career.

But seeing a ticked off Busch is actually a good thing. He wasn't so mad at his teammate winning as he was at himself for not being able to find a way to get to the checkered flag first.

That kind of desire and drive is very, very healthy, both individually as well as collectively in a team situation.

While some may have thought going into this season that the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Kenseth would not fit in with the oftentimes cocky and capricious Busch, it's become very clear this season that theirs is a strong bond, not a marriage of convenience, so to speak.

And once Hamlin gets healthy from a variety of maladies and regains the potential championship-winning form that he's shown in seasons past, we could potentially be looking at NASCAR's next superteam, a trio of drivers who have it all within them to become a veritable Murder's Row of stock car racing.

Say what you want about how Hendrick Motorsports may be the best team in NASCAR the last decade, but we could very easily and realistically be seeing a changing of the guard this season. While one win does not a championship make—especially with the way HMS teammates Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished 5-6 in Sunday's race—if the latter pair are going to earn their sixth and fifth Cup titles respectively, it's pretty clear they're going to have to get through the Kenseth-Busch juggernaut first.

In a way, I compare Kenseth and Busch to the Penn and Teller of NASCAR. One talks too much at times, while the other barely says anything.

But when it comes to success this year, there's no question they both let their driving do their talking for them. And based upon what we saw Sunday, you can expect a lot more of that race-winning chatter going forward, potentially all the way to the championship in the season-ending race at Homestead.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kenseth and Busch combine for as many as six wins in the 10-race Chase. They already have one win in their hip pocket already.

And if it ultimately winds up being Kenseth-Busch 1-2 or Busch-Kenseth 1-2 in the final standings, the big key is that none of the other 11 Chase drivers will be able to make such a statement or to share in the potential laurels that await the two teammates.

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