Five Lessons Learned: Kenseth’s Hole Might Be Too Deep


By Jared Turner

  1. Overlook Logano At Your Own Risk

While the big story of the past few weeks and actually the past few months has been the dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing, along with Kevin Harvick’s remarkable drive to victory in a must-win scenario at Dover, Joey Logano has quietly remained a consistent frontrunner. There was nothing quiet about Logano’s performance, however, at Charlotte where he crushed the competition — Harvick and the JGR drivers included. How stout was Logano on Sunday? He led 227 of 334 laps and was never challenged by second-place Harvick near the end. The best news of all, of course, for Logano is that he can coast the next two weekends since his spot in the next Chase round is settled come what may.

2. Kenseth Might Be In Too Deep

Despite Matt Kenseth starting from the pole and leading 72 laps at Charlotte, the outcome couldn’t have been more disappointing for the winner of a series-high five races and one of the favorites to win the championship heading into the Chase. After multiple incidents, the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion limped home in 42nd and now sits a whopping 45 points out of the championship lead heading to Race No. 2 of the Contender Round. Kenseth’s best bet to make the next round is to win next weekend at Kansas, a 1.5-mile track where he’s been to Victory Lane twice and won with two different teams. Talladega, site of this round’s elimination-race, doesn’t bode as well for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

3. Junior Nation Shouldn’t Fret … Yet

Despite Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving Charlotte 11th among the 12 remaining Chase drivers, all is not lost for his chances of moving on to the next round. Sure, NASCAR’s most popular driver is in a points hole, but the two remaining Contender Round tracks — Kansas and Talladega — were good for him earlier this year. In fact, Earnhardt dominated at Talladega in May and did the same at Daytona in July, and is 2-for-2 in the most recent restrictor-plate races. The bottom line? Even if Junior has just a mediocre day at Kansas next weekend, he has to be the favorite to win the following weekend’s elimination race at ‘Dega — where a victory would punch his ticket to the Eliminator Round.

4. Hendrick Is Still Being Humbled

It was a dreadful afternoon for Hendrick Motorsports, which placed just one of its four drivers in the top 10 and none in the top five. Hendrick’s title hopes, of course, rest on the shoulders of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — the only Hendrick drivers in the Contender Round. Although Gordon salvaged an eighth-place finish at Charlotte, he lacked the speed to contend for the win — just as he has pretty much all season. Junior, meanwhile, dealt with all manner of issues en route to a disappointing 28th-place finish. It’s now been more than three months since a Hendrick driver last went to Victory Lane. That’s a really bad sign for the organization’s chances of somehow making a late title surge.

5. Kyle Busch Dodged A Bullet

Kyle Busch has overcome numerous hurdles in 2015. He overcame another one at Charlotte where a collision with Kyle Larson under caution had the potential to ruin Busch’s day and put him in an impossible position heading to the next race. But thanks to some repairs to the front of his damaged car by the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing crew, Busch finished a respectable 20th. Instead of leaving Charlotte with a virtually insurmountable points deficit and possibly facing a must-win situation at one of the next two races, Busch isn’t so far down in the points that winning is his only option for advancing to the next round. The bad news? Up next is Kansas, a track where he notoriously struggles.