NASCAR’s Matt Kenseth might have changed teams, but he still owns the newly paved Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth, in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Sprint Cup STP 400 on Sunday, six months after he won the inaugural race on the new surface while driving for Roush Fenway Racing.
Kenseth, who started from the pole, led 110 of the first 111 laps, took the lead in his Toyota with 52 laps to go and held off Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson by 0.150 seconds — the closest finish of the season since the Daytona 500.
“Our car was unbelievable fast the first 120 laps or so,” said Kenseth, who already in eight starts has won as many races in the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing as Joey Logano made in 147 starts. “We could pretty much run out there as far as we wanted to.
“I don't know about me and this racetrack. It’s really a credit to guys that bring me the race cars. I like the track. Today is the first day I've used the variable banking. The last Roush race I ran the bottom the whole time. Today it really widened out pretty good. It almost got almost three widths wide where you could move around. So I think the track is just going to continue to get better and get wider.”
Kenseth’s victory was his second of the season and 26th of his career. He also beat Kahne to the checkered flag in a similar finish on March 10 at Las Vegas.
“It felt like Vegas all over again,” Kahne said. “I just kind of felt really similar to that in how I could catch him but couldn’t really do anything once I got close. I tried a few things there, and he kind of blocked those spots and went those directions and gained the speed I had, and then we were even again.”
Johnson, a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway, wasn’t surprised Kenseth has made the quickest adjustment to the new racing surface.
“Matt is good, and he always has been,” Johnson said. “He’s an awesome race-car driver. He impresses me in his ability to lead the team and make adjustments on the car and his knowledge of the car. But more than anything inside the race car is finding that little bit more.
“The guy can do it and always has, and I’ve always been impressed with him. Sheer speed, and then when you get in traffic and making good decisions and knowing how to work traffic and race cars, it doesn't surprise me to see the success that he’s having.”
The performance by Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion, is exactly why Joe Gibbs Racing signed him after his contract was up with Roush Fenway, for whom Kenseth raced for 14 seasons. Kenseth joined teammate Kyle Busch and Johnson as the only drivers to have won twice this season and is eighth in the points standings.
“We’ve always wanted Matt here,” said J.D. Gibbs, who co-owns Joe Gibbs Racing with his Hall of Fame football coach father. Gibbs then deflected the question to Kenseth.
“Matt, why did you (come to Joe Gibbs Racing)?” Gibbs asked.
“I’ll tell you,” Kenseth deadpanned while looking at reporters, “it had more to do with his dad than him
“I mean, honestly, the reasons were countless. But I just knew it was the right place for me with the right group at the right time. I knew there wasn’t any doubt. I just knew that was where I needed to be and where I felt like I had the best chance to be the most successful.”
Especially at Kansas Speedway.