Is It Championship or Bust for Matt Kenseth in 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase?

Paul CarreauAnalyst IOctober 14, 2013

Matt Kenseth leads the Sprint Cup with seven wins and is the current championship leader.
Matt Kenseth leads the Sprint Cup with seven wins and is the current championship leader.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Matt Kenseth has been one of the most consistent drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. He averages approximately two wins per year, and in 12 full-time seasons prior to 2013, he has averaged an eighth-place finish in the championship standings.

It is never a surprise to see him racing for wins or being a top contender in the points, but with as uncharacteristically of a dominating season that Kenseth has had thus far, one cannot help but wonder if this season is championship or bust.

With just five races remaining in the season, Kenseth is the current points leader by four markers over five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson. His career-high seven wins are two better than anyone else in the series, and his 8.9 average starting position is the best among full-time competitors.

After an up-and-down regular season that saw him win five times but also post five finishes of 25th or worse, Kenseth has been nothing short of excellent in the postseason.

Through the first five playoff races, Kenseth is twice a winner and has also recorded finishes of seventh, 11th and third en route to his current championship-leading position.

Adding to the growing Kenseth lore of 2013 was his most recent performance this past Sunday in Charlotte.

Following a 20th-place qualifying effort, which was worst among the 13 Chase drivers, Kenseth fought an ill-handling race car through the first half of the event, and with patience and the help of his crew he managed to pass 11 of his championship-chasing rivals and post a third-place finish.

That was good enough for second among the Chase participants. Those kind of performances have earned Kenseth the championship lead.

With as good of a year as it has been for Kenseth, driving in his first season for Joe Gibbs Racing, it is starting to feel like the season would be a letdown if it ends with anything other than his second championship.

When the 2013 season began, the questions about Kenseth addressed how well he would perform in his first year not only with a new team, but also with a new manufacturer.

Matt Kenseth won each of the first two events in the 2013 Chase.
Matt Kenseth won each of the first two events in the 2013 Chase.Jerry Markland/Getty Images

He went out and silenced any potential critics by winning in only his third start with the team. He went on to win twice more in the next eight races.

At that point, Kenseth became the favorite to win the title. Even when a mid-season slump saw him drop to as low as seventh in the standings, he still maintained his position as championship-favorite.

Perhaps it is the fact that he is the current points leader. Possibly it is because he has the series lead, and a new personal best, in wins, or maybe it is just because of all the extra media attention that the typically under-the-radar driver has received thanks to his success.

Whatever the reason is, for the first time in his career, Kenseth is the favorite to win the series title, and anything less than winning the championship will make an otherwise-impressive looking 2013 season the most disappointing of his career.