Matt Kenseth just 'living the dream'

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- This is why Joe Gibbs Racing began recruiting Matt Kenseth to replace Joey Logano in the No. 20 Sprint Cup car at about this time a year ago.

This is why Kenseth was willing to leave Roush Fenway Racing after 13 seasons to go to JGR.


And a chance to win another championship.

Kenseth's victory over Kasey Kahne on Sunday at Kansas Speedway was his second in eight starts for JGR. He has already equaled what Logano had in 147 starts in the iconic 20 that Tony Stewart drove to two championships and 33 wins.

You get the feeling there will be plenty more.

Kenseth might not be the most-talented driver at JGR when it comes to raw speed. That goes to Kyle Busch, who once again proved he hasn't figured out this 1.5-mile track by crashing out on Lap 102.

He might not be the most outspoken. That goes to the injured Denny Hamlin, who jokingly tweeted when Busch collected Logano, the driver he blames for sidelining him with a compression fracture: "I know Joey felt bad but he doesn't have to keep falling in the points on my count :) #seeyasoon"

But Kenseth is proving to be the most complete.

And by far the least controversial.

Take away a blown engine that ruined a good run in the Daytona 500 and a crash at Bristol after he led 85 laps and Kenseth would be close to, if not in, the points lead instead of in eighth.

But he's not complaining.

And don't think he's not appreciative, calling the opportunity he's been given a "dream come true."

"I can't tell you guys how unbelievably proud I am to drive for you guys," Kenseth radioed after frantically holding off Kahne just like he did at Las Vegas for his first JGR win.

Nobody should be surprised the 2003 Cup champion is in this position. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said before the season that Kenseth was a driver to keep an eye on.

"And he's proven that," Johnson said after his third-place finish that extended his points lead to 37 over now-second-place Kahne.

As Johnson added, Kenseth is good and always has been 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," Johnson said. "But more than anything inside the race car in finding that little bit more."

Kenseth showed the latter all day. After leading all but one of the first 111 laps, he fell back a bit when pit stops took him out of sequence. That helped him and the team make adjustments that helped when the sun came out and warmed the track.



Over the final 20 laps, Kenseth was a master of working traffic and matching Kahne move for move, even though he admittedly made a few mistakes that allowed it to be closer than it should have been.

But in the clutch, Kenseth was flawless in securing his second career win from the pole -- the third straight time that has happened in the series this season, something that hasn't happened since 1985.

"We've always wanted Matt here," team president J.D. Gibbs said as he turned to his driver and asked, "Matt, why did you [want to come here]?"

Kenseth smiled and jokingly said, "I tell you, it had more to do with his dad than him."

This sense of humor, even though it was a true statement, is also why JGR wanted Kenseth. The organization needed somebody who could take over the veteran leadership role that really had been missing since Stewart left after the 2008 season.

It needed somebody to balance out the sometimes controversial personalities of Hamlin and Busch.

"Matt is happy to take it on, and so for us it's just a great connection," Gibbs said. "It's just watching all three guys walk in step, and they look to Matt and realize he has enough experience and he's gifted behind the wheel.

"They listen to him, so it's valuable when we have those meetings, and those guys, whatever they say, everyone kind of picks up on and listens to [him]."

If you have all your teammates and you all think the same thing and you all want the same thing, I don't think you get anybody's potential. I really think it's helped me become a better driver. [It] really elevates your game when you have guys like that that can go out and win any week.

-- Matt Kenseth

One of the many things that intrigued Kenseth about making the move was having teammates with such different personalities. That wasn't always the case at RFR.

"If you have all your teammates and you all think the same thing and you all want the same thing, I don't think you get anybody's potential," Kenseth said. "I really think it's helped me become a better driver. [It] really elevates your game when you have guys like that that can go out and win any week."

JGR has won four of the past six Cup races between Kenseth and Busch. It potentially could have won all six.

"I just knew it was the right place for me with the right group at the right time and all that stuff," Kenseth said. "I just knew there wasn't any doubt.

"I just knew [JGR] was where I needed to be and where I felt like I had the best chance to be the most successful."

Kenseth is so at home that he didn't give a thought to racing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the lead at one point in the No. 17 RFR car Kenseth won with at Kansas in the fall.

"It really doesn't cross my mind, honestly," Kenseth said. "I feel like the 20 car is my car, and I don't really think about that that much anymore."

Logano never really had ownership of the 20 because he couldn't bring it to the high standards Stewart set. Kenseth has done that in eight short weeks.

Besides a more stable sponsorship situation, JGR has provided him with the one thing he really sought when making the change:

A fast car.

Kenseth has been faster in qualifying than at any point in his career, with an average starting position of 10.6 compared to 19.2 at RFR. He already has led two more laps (482) than he did in 36 races last season at Roush.

A fast car in the hands of one of the most consistent drivers in the garage makes Kenseth a threat to win every week.

That's what he wanted.

That's what JGR wanted.

"Living the dream?" Kenseth said. "Yeah."