Matt Kenseth entered the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a very successful year in 2013 with the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. The Wisconsin native had a stellar performance in his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing, earning seven victories, 12 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes. It turned out to be his best season by far since joining the series full-time in 2000.
With the strong performance the previous year, Kenseth had plenty of momentum coming into the 2014 season. The 42-year-old started the year out strong in the first nine races, including a pole at the Auto Club Speedway. Once the 10th race rolled around, which was at the Talladega Superspeedway, that’s when the good finishes started going downhill after a 37th-place run.
Kenseth pulled a 10th-place out of the hat at the Kansas Speedway. He then backed it up with a third-place finish in the next two races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover. However, the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races after that, which were at Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma, all were finishes 14th or worst. These three races in total took him from second to fifth in the points standings. As the summer portion of the schedule worked its way through, Kenseth brought home top-five runs in the next three of the four races to gain back another spot in points. From there, until the opening Chase for the Sprint Cup Series race at the Chicagoland Speedway, Chase hopes nearly fell apart for the team. With Chicago six races ahead, the team struggled even more earning three top-10 finishes. The rest of those were finishes 38th or worst.
With the Chase for the Sprint Cup format, as long as a team made the cut, it’s all a brand-new season for those 16 drivers. At the Chicagoland Speedway, Kenseth qualified for the race in fifth and finished the 267-lap event in 10th. However, the next four races didn’t go the teams way as he only pulled one top-five finish at Dover. The next two stops, which were at the Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville, the Wisconsin native pulled a runner-up and sixth-place finish that put him back into the running for the championship. The next week at the Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth started the weekend looking strong after scoring the pole in qualifying. He led the first 53 laps of the event but that’s when everything started going backwards for him. After not being able to recover the lead, Kenseth finished a very disappointing 25th. The third-place finish the next weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway wasn’t enough to advance into the final championship round of the Chase.
After being eliminated from the final championship four, Kenseth had a great weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. He started third in the season finale to finish sixth when the checkered-flag flown to end what was a very disappointing 2014 season for the No. 20 crew.
The 2015 season will be an interesting one for Kenseth as he’ll get his former Roush-Fenway Racing teammate back. Not only that, but he’ll also be paired with a new crew chief next year. This fresh start in 2015 should give Kenseth and the entire No. 20 Sprint Cup Series team plenty of momentum to possibly capture the championship in 2015.
With Carl Edwards joining the team, he too will be a fun driver to watch in 2015. With the struggles of Roush-Fenway Racing’s performance the last several years, Edwards made the ultimate decision to leave the organization to pursue a ride with JGR. It’s definitely going to be weird to say and get used to, but overall, it should turn out to be a great decision.
When Joe Gibbs Racing announced the crew chief lineups for its teams last week, many were disappointed that Edwards would be paired with Darian Grubb. However, many people forget that Grubb helped Stewart secure the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2011. With that said, I look for Edwards to have a very strong first season with this organization.