[media-credit name=”(c) CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”251″][/media-credit]You just never know. Matt Kenseth was thankful for another win. The Samsung Mobile 500 Sprint Cup race gave Kenseth another opportunity. It was an opportunity he cherished because, as he said, you never know if you’re going to ever win another race.
On this night, Kenseth shouldn’t have been so worried. He flat out dominated the race. He led 169 of the race’s 334 laps—well over half. His only competition, if you don’t count his fellow Roush-Fenway Ford teammates, was from Clint Bowyer, he of the Richard Childress stable. Kenseth took care of business with smart driving and a fast pit crew, however, to win the race, the 19th of his career.
Once upon a time, way back in 2003, this same driver won a Sprint Cup championship. Back in those days it was the Nextel Cup Championship, but Sprint bought Nextel, and the rest is history. I can remember sitting in the press box at the former North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham and the buzz was that there would be a new championship formula for 2004. In that year, Kenseth had only won one race, but using the point system created by the late Bob Latford, which was based on consistency, he won the trophy. Those in power didn’t like that so much, and the Chase was born. Since then, I have always called Kenseth “the Chase maker.” It was his championship that started all this changing and moving by NASCAR to create the perfect system. Of course, if it was perfect, we wouldn’t be changing it year after year, but that’s beside the point. Kenseth, for all intents and purposes, is the reason for the Chase.
Back in those days, NASCAR was growing, going into new markets like California and places you know today and the old had to be thrown out, no matter how successful it was. The champ of NASCAR’s top division had to be a winner, something Kenseth was not. For the good of the sport, it had to be someone like Jeff Gordon or, heck, anyone who won races. And for good measure, throw Dale Earnhardt’s son into the mix. Yeah, popular folks who could be on the cover of magazines. It was also would create a playoff system like the NFL and MLB had since NASCAR was so concerned about their competition in the sports world. Matt Kenseth wasn’t that person. Here’s a guy who just goes out and does his job week after week. He’s not flashy. He’s almost boring to many people. He was not the kind of folk you need to be your champion. Never mind that he’s a good driver who always seems to be at the top of every finishing order. There had to be a better way. Enter the Chase.
Since then, the formula had been pretty successful from the standpoint of NASCAR. Kurt Busch won in 2004, which must have had the boys in Daytona Beach scratching their heads, and Tony Stewart got in once, but it’s mostly been Jimmie Johnson, a driver similar to Kenseth. No one would ever say that Johnson has the charisma of Gordon or Earnhardt. He just does well, and he wins.
So in the year 2011, the guy who created the Chase wins again after 76 races. A guy who just finishes well in most races. Give him the car and a little luck and he wins. I find it refreshing. Matt Kenseth is most often compared to David Pearson, a guy who took care of his equipment and always was around at the end. He’s a guy who always makes the Chase. And for a moment on a Saturday night, he was in victory lane. It may not happen again for awhile, but with this new season it appears he might. And he’ll be in the Chase, as usual. It’s a shame he didn’t win a few more races in 2003. We might have avoided the one system I consider to be an aberration. But, then again, that’s maybe what guys like Matt Kenseth do. Congratulations, Matt. You are a winner, no matter what others may say.