KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Matt Kenseth is still reluctant to talk about what drove his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season.
He’s perfectly willing to talk about how much he enjoys winning.
After making the biggest driver move of the year, Kenseth has proven with his results that he’s perfectly happy with his new ride.
He won earlier this season at Las Vegas, and on Sunday kept his No. 20 Toyota in front of Kasey Kahne over the final few laps to win at Kansas Speedway.
“It can always go better,” Kenseth said, “but things have been party darn good from a performance standpoint. I think from an organizational standpoint, if all the stars aligned, we could have won every race this year.
“We’ve had cars running in the top three every week.”
Kenseth had spent his entire career at Roush Fenway, winning three times each of the past two years, including a victory in last fall’s race at Kansas. But the success he’s having with Gibbs, and the strong rapport that he’s already built with crew chief Jason Ratcliff, has turned some heads.
He ran in the top 10 at Phoenix and California, and landed on the pole at Kansas. He wound up leading a race-high 163 laps, and the win pushed him into eighth in the points standing.
“It was the right place for me, with the right group at the right time, and all that stuff,” Kenseth said. “There wasn’t — honestly, 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 successful.”
It’s not just the results that have made him such a welcome addition to Gibbs. Kenseth also has taken on a leadership role for a team that includes Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
“They listen to him,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. “So it’s invaluable when we have those meetings and those guys, whatever he says, they kind of pick up on.”
Kenseth certainly showed the kids how to do it Sunday.
He won the race off pit road after taking two tires under caution, and then built a big enough lead on Kahne that he could hang on in the closing laps. And even when Kahne briefly pulled up next to him entering Turn 4, Kenseth pulled away over the final lap.
He was chased across the finish line to become the third straight pole winner in the Sprint Cup series, something that hadn’t happened since the 1985 season, when Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt combined to do it at Michigan, Bristol and Darlington.
Jimmie Johnson won two weeks ago at Martinsville. Busch did it last week at Texas.
“The fastest car is supposed to win, right? That’s what racing is about,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence, the way things worked out.”
Johnson, the points leader, finished third with a car that kept getting better during long, green flag runs. Martin Truex Jr. came home in fourth and Clint Bowyer was fifth.
“Matt’s good. He always has been,” Johnson said. “He impresses me in his ability to lead the team, make adjustments on the car, and his knowledge of the car, but most importantly, inside the car, and finding a little bit more. The guy can do it.”
So can Brad Keselowski, who put a positive spin on an ugly week for Penske Racing.
Keselowski picked up some minor damage to the rear of his car early in the race, and fell a lap down when he was slow getting off pit road under caution. The damage kept getting worse as the laps ticked along, and eventually a huge piece of his rear end ripped off.
The No. 2 team managed to get the car fixed enough that Keselowski slowly picked off positions in the waning laps, finishing a heartening sixth after a frustrating week.
Penske Racing is appealing heavy sanctions handed down by NASCAR after an unapproved rear-end housing was found on its two cars last week at Texas. The penalties include six-race suspensions for seven-crew members, including both crew chiefs, $200,000 in fines and 25-point deductions for Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano.
The date of the appeal hasn’t been set, allowing both teams to arrive in full at Kansas.
“Usually you’re not happy unless you win,” Keselowski said, “but you know, a day where you can fight through adversity like we did today and get a solid finish, that’s kind of is a win.”
Logano didn’t have the same chipper feeling.
He was struggling to find speed when Busch got in trouble along the wall, shot down to the apron of the track and smacked into his No. 22 Ford in a devastating head-to-head collision. The wreck knocked both cars out of the race and left debris scattered all over the asphalt.
“What was going through my mind? ‘This is going to hurt,’” Logano said. “I was committed to going by him on the bottom at that point and as soon as I committed to it he started heading down the race track. At that point I was just kind of screwed.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spent most of the afternoon running at the front, with Kenseth chasing the No. 17 Ford that he drove to victory last year at the newly resurfaced Kansas Speedway.
But Stenhouse was among several leading drivers, including Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who were forced to pit under green with about 50 laps to go. They were just getting back onto the track when the rear-bumper on Keselowski’s car that had been hanging on by a thread finally came loose.
The metal clattered across the track and brought out a caution.
Kenseth beat Truex in the race off pit road — critical at Kansas, where a second groove didn’t start to round into shape until late in the race. Kahne had them both in his sights, but by the time he moved into second place, Kenseth had more than a full second on the field.
“I felt like restarting fourth, I needed to get to third, to second and to first as quickly as I possibly could,” Kahne said. “I got by Jimmie and when I got to Truex, I just went around him before he could block the move, but by then, Kenseth was already gone.”