Before the season started, I predicted that Matt Kenseth would win the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. Now, as the regular season is just about half over, I am going to tell you why that prediction is now a guarantee.
Kenseth is on pace to have one of his best career seasons this year. So far through 12 races, he has already scored two wins. He failed to record a single victory a season ago. His four top-five finishes are only two away from his 36 race total of a year ago and just three back from his 2009 output.
With 14 races left in the regular season, Kenseth is almost all but guaranteed to make the Chase. He currently sits in seventh in the standings. Even if he falls out of the top 10 in points, his current win total should be more than enough to at least secure him one of the two wild card spots in the Chase.
He only has five top 10s, but that total could easily be higher. He had to pit out of the lead as the field was coming to the green flag on a restart at Richmond. That trapped him a couple laps down, which he was never able to quite fully recover from.
He was an innocent victim at Talladega. While running in the top 10, Kyle Busch got turned sideways by his teammate Joey Logano, and as he spun down the track he barrelled right into the side of Kenseth's car, ending his day.
Then last weekend, Kenseth was seemingly the driver to beat in Charlotte, or at least a top-five car, when he had to make a pit stop in the final 10 laps for fuel. If not for some unlucky breaks, Kenseth could easily have upwards of eight top-10 finishes.
Only his teammate, and current points leader Carl Edwards has at least that many top 10s on the season.
Kenseth has the luxury of having one of the sport's top pit crews. As the season continues on, the pit crew becomes more and more important in a team's quest to win a championship. The "Killer Bees" as they have been dubbed since the days when DeWalt was the primary sponsor are typically flawless and very rarely make a pivotal mistake on pit road.
Then there is the Chase schedule. Based on the way Kenseth has run this season, the 10 race playoff almost seems to fit perfectly to Kenseth's strengths.
Five of the 10 tracks in the Chase are mile and a half tracks, which has been Kenseth's forte thus far this year.
The series has raced on four mile and a half tracks so far this year: Las Vegas, Fontana, Texas and Fort Worth. Kenseth has one win, a fourth, 11th and 14th. The worst of those finishes came at Charlotte where as mentioned, he had the dominant car but had to make the late pit stop for fuel.
Of the other five tracks, one of them is Dover—where he has already won this season—and another is Martinsville, a track where he posted a sixth place finish.
Phoenix is also in the Chase where Kenseth has finished in the top dozen each of his last three trips.
That leaves just two tracks where Kenseth would need to have a little good luck on his side: Loudon has been just a mediocre track for driver No. 17 over his career, and Talladega is the wild-card race for every Chase driver.
The soft-spoken Kenseth has had a very solid season so far. He has already led 334 laps this year, which is just 19 laps less than he led in the last two seasons combined. As has become his usual, Kenseth continues to just put up solid finishes and put himself in a position to win.
As the regular season begins to wind down, look for Kenseth to continue putting together strong runs. As the Chase gets underway, and the schedule really starts to swing in Kenseth's favor, look for some of those strong runs to turn in to a few more wins—and ultimately a championship for the second time in his career.