The 2013 season was hugely successful for Matt Kenseth. His seven wins were both a series best as well as a new career high for one year. He set or tied personal highs in both poles and laps led, and his 12.1 average finish was tops since 2006.
The only thing that Kenseth did not do this past year was win the series championship. When the final checkered flag waved, he missed out on his second Sprint Cup title by 19 points to Jimmie Johnson.
After such a tremendous season that ended without winning the biggest prize, one can only wonder how this will affect Kenseth going into the 2014 season.
There are two scenarios that seem most likely.
The first is that Kenseth will use the missed opportunity of this past season as motivation to perform at an even higher level next year. The other scenario is that the disappointment of not winning the title will linger into 2014, and Kenseth and his team will struggle and never become factors for the championship.
If recent history has taught us anything, it is that finishing second in the championship standings to Johnson usually leads to a letdown season the following year.
Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin are the five drivers that have finished runner-up to Johnson in his five previous championship-winning seasons. They combined to win 32 races during the respective years that they were battling Johnson for the title.
The season following their championship defeat, the five drivers combined to win just three races, with Gordon, Edwards and Martin all going winless the year after finishing second.
If there is one silver lining in the historical aspect of things for Kenseth, it is that it was he who posted the best follow-up season. After finishing second to Johnson in 2006, he saw his win total drop from four to two, but his top-10 production actually increased by one.
He ended 2007 ranked fourth in the standings, which makes him the only driver to finish higher than seventh the year after falling to Johnson.
The biggest problem facing Kenseth in 2014 is that it will be very difficult to repeat the success that he accomplished this year.
Since 2004, 22 drivers have posted at least five wins in a 36-race season. Only four times, Johnson three and Tony Stewart once, has a driver followed up by winning at least four races the following year.
If that holds true for Kenseth, then he has virtually no chance at winning the 2014 title, as each of the last nine series champions has won at least five races during their championship campaign.
While Kenseth more than proved he is championship worthy with his remarkable 2013 season, history says not to expect a similar season in 2014.
While it seems unlikely that he would go winless next year, asking him to win seven more times would also be a stretch.
Throughout his career, Kenseth has always been known as one of the most consistent drivers in the sport. He was never a threat to win a bunch of races in a year but a guy who could be counted on to finish in the top 10 at least half of the time.
2013 was clearly the exception to that norm, as he seemed to be victorious week after week.
In 2014, do not expect a huge win total, but there is no need to think he will completely fall off the map either. More than likely, we will see driver No. 20 get back to the usual consistency that he has always been known for, and he will have yet another typical Matt Kenseth season.