Matt Kenseth seems to have Kansas Speedway figured out.
Six months after winning at Kansas last October, Kenseth returned with a new team for the track’s spring race, won the pole on Friday and then held off a fast-closing Kasey Kahne to win Sunday’s STP 400.
It was Kenseth’s second victory of the season with Joe Gibbs Racing, the team he joined after leaving Roush Fenway Racing last season.
“It is kind of cliché,” said Kenseth. “But I really feel like I’m living a dream – this is a dream come true.”
He finished his 14-year career with Roush Fenway with a splash, including a victory last fall at Kansas. Then he showed up at the 1.5-mile track late last week with his new team and kept his roll going, winning the pole for Sunday’s race.
“We’re running well,” said Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief. “And, yes, we’re winning races and doing the things we need to do, but I feel like we have a lot of room to grow as far as our race car.”
Jimmie Johnson’s third-place finish increased his points lead to 37 ahead of Kahne, who moved from sixth place to second with his runner-up finish. Martin Truex Jr., who led 46 laps – the most of any driver aside from Kenseth – was fourth. Clint Bowyer, who is from nearby Emporia, Kan., was fifth.
Kyle Busch, who was second in points behind Johnson entering the race, slipped to sixth after he wrecked on Lap 105 and finished 38th.
Kenseth’s victory Sunday was similar to his triumph at Las Vegas in March – his first for JGR. He also beat a hard-charging Kahne that day by .594 seconds.
Kenseth, who picked up two spots in the points standings and is now eighth, was the third consecutive driver to win from the pole this season (Kyle Busch at Texas, Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville), the first time that’s happened since 1985 on the Sprint Cup circuit.
The race went relatively quickly, ending in just under three hours despite eight caution flags.
Although Kahne nearly caught him, Kenseth was dominant for much of the race. He led 110 of the first 111 laps, never fell below ninth and was at the front of the field for the race’s final 52 laps.
Kahne had closed fast on Kenseth, but he said his Chevy didn’t run as well as it could have when the sun came out late in the race.
“I needed clouds,” said Kahne. “We tightened up a little bit on that final run. Matt was fast, and I just did everything I could and he would go to those spots and I couldn’t make any ground.”
Kenseth’s new-found success at Kansas isn’t a surprise, at least to one of his competitors.
“He impresses me in his ability to lead the team and make adjustments on the car and his knowledge of the car,” said Johnson. “But more than anything, inside the race car in finding that little bit more. The guy can do it and always has, and I’ve always been impressed with him. Sheer speed, and then when you get in traffic and making good decisions and knowing how to work traffic and race cars, it doesn’t surprise me to see the success that he’s having.”