NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Strikes Monster Mile Gold

NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Strikes Monster Mile Gold

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Matt Kenseth banished bad luck that has plagued his 2016 season by taking the checkered flag at the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at the Dover International Speedway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had been on the cusp of greatness all season, but mistakes and bad luck thwarted his ability to win. All that changed on Sunday, though. He held off the late charges of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott to take his first win of the 2016 season. The win gives him a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup alongside all his teammates who have already scored victories this season.

Sunday's 400 miles at Dover were some of the most competitive we've seen this season. Rain interrupted qualifying plans early in the weekend, which allowed Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to start on the front row. Harvick went on to lead the early portion of the distance and ended the day with 117 circuits out front. Five drivers led at least 40 laps on Sunday, but it was Kenseth who led the most important one. The NASCAR Sprint Cup circus now heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for two weeks of racing to close out the month of May.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Despite the number of wrecks that took out top competitors in Dover, Kenseth persevered and survived to score a top finish. This is the second week in a row that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver managed to shake off the bad luck, but

Matt Kenseth banished bad luck that has plagued his 2016 season by taking the checkered flag at the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at the Dover International Speedway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had been on the cusp of greatness all season, but mistakes and bad luck thwarted his ability to win. All that changed on Sunday, though. He held off the late charges of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott to take his first win of the 2016 season. The win gives him a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup alongside all his teammates who have already scored victories this season.

Sunday's 400 miles at Dover were some of the most competitive we've seen this season. Rain interrupted qualifying plans early in the weekend, which allowed Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to start on the front row. Harvick went on to lead the early portion of the distance and ended the day with 117 circuits out front. Five drivers led at least 40 laps on Sunday, but it was Kenseth who led the most important one. The NASCAR Sprint Cup circus now heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for two weeks of racing to close out the month of May.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Despite the number of wrecks that took out top competitors in Dover, Kenseth persevered and survived to score a top finish. This is the second week in a row that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver managed to shake off the bad luck, but this time he was able to put his car in Victory Lane. Kenseth led more than 40 laps and held off young guns Larson and Elliott to capture his first win of the season, which has been overdue based on his early season pace. Kenseth has two Charlotte wins, and started from pole in both races last season. His last win at the track came in 2011, but he did finish fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2015.

Kyle Larson – Larson gave everything he had in Sunday's AAA 400, but it wasn't enough to overtake Kenseth in the final green-flag run to the checkered flag. His only chance to win last week would have been to bump Kenseth a bit harder than he did, but hindsight is 20/20. Sunday's performance was a fantastic one from the young star despite him not making the turn into Victory Lane, and it cements Dover as being one of his best tracks. It was his fourth second-place finish in the Sprint Cup series and assures fantasy players that he'll be one driver to watch every time Dover arrives on the calendar. Larson's best Charlotte finish was a sixth-place finish in the fall of 2014 when he started 24th.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was having another fantastic race at Dover until Jimmie Johnson's inability to get moving on a late restart caused him to power straight into the rear of the car in front, destroying the nose of his No. 78 Chevrolet. Still, the Furniture Row Racing team had a car fast enough to overcome the damage and finish inside the top 10 for valuable championship points. He led 47 of the 400 laps on offer, and fantasy players have to know that his time to visit Victory Lane is coming soon. Truex finished inside the top five in both of last season's visits to Charlotte, and he continues to take advantage of the partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing to score top finishes.

Kasey Kahne – Sunday's visit to Dover delivered Kahne's second top-five finish of the 2016 season. The first of the year came at Richmond last month, but Kahne is starting to make more appearances at the front of the order now. Those appearances are what fantasy players need to see before adding him to their rosters each week. Kahne has definitely taken a step forward in 2016 but continues to have some distance to cover before becoming a reliable fantasy option. His Dover finish could build the confidence that will carry him swiftly into one of his best circuits in Charlotte. Kahne has four wins at the Charlotte oval and could be considered one of the top fantasy selections early.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin started off the Dover weekend on the right foot by delivering top speeds in practice, but it wasn't all smooth sailing for the Joe Gibbs teammate. During the race, he was caught a lap down early by being on pit road when the caution flag waved for Matt Di Benedetto's crash. He survived the late race pileup caused by Jimmie Johnson's inability to restart, which could have been the turning point for his race. He battled forward and finished the day in seventh position, which is a signal of what could have been had he not had the bad luck. Remarkably, Hamlin has never won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but does have 10 top-10 finishes in the last 11 starts at the track.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – An inability to get rolling on a late restart caused an accordion-style crash that effectively took out Johnson when all was said and done. This is the second time that the No. 48 had suffered a major disappointment at the track at which he has dominated in the past. The mechanical issue was a rarity for the No. 48, but it extends his early-season slump and extends his inability to perform to expectation at Dover. Johnson had a terrible season at Charlotte in 2015 to boot. It's remarkable to say he didn't even finish inside the top 30 at the track last season, but he didn't. Johnson may be at the low point of his season and is in need of a turnaround.

Austin Dillon – Dillon faces another hurdle to clear after a part failure knocked him into the wall and out of Sunday's AAA 400. The Richard Childress Racing driver put together a respectable weekend before the failure knocked him out of contention. He finished 33rd after starting inside the top 10, which was his worst finish of the season. Dillon has one top-10 finish from his four trips to Charlotte in a points-paying race and that was seventh last fall. His early races this season started strongly, but he now faces adversity. His 12th-place standing in points will give him some consolation, but he'll need to come out of Charlotte with some confidence before becoming a top fantasy option.

Tony Stewart – Despite returning to the 2016 season a step ahead of where he left last season, Stewart encountered more than enough trouble last week. His luck started running out when he and teammate Danica Patrick had an unfortunate set of circumstances in practice, but Stewart's 33rd-place finish on Sunday put the nail in the coffin of the miserable outing. Now he must focus on moving forward and overcoming the struggles that plagued him in Dover. Stewart's last Charlotte win came way back in 2003, and he continues to climb the hill to complete recovery in the series. He hasn't finished inside the top 20 at the track since the 2014 Coca-Cola 600. Fantasy owners must wonder where he would be had he not been injured earlier in the year.

Joey Logano – The AAA 400 Drive for Autism was yet another week where significant contact affected Logano's charge to make the Chase and win the championship in 2016. The Penske Racing driver has now had two consecutive weeks of contact that wasn't his fault, but the luck simply isn't flowing his direction. He has fallen from one of the most consistent top finishers at the end of 2015 to being one of the more inconsistent racers in 2016. He finished 23rd on Sunday, which was his third consecutive finish outside of the top 20 for the Penske Racing driver. He did win the fall race at Charlotte last season, but he hasn't scored a top-10 finish since Richmond last month.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chase Elliott – Elliott drove an incredible race in his first visit to Dover in the Sprint Cup series on Sunday, his best finish in the Sprint Cup series. He drove exceptionally well to put himself in position to take advantage of any Kenseth or Larson missteps, but those mistakes never transpired. Instead, he settled for his best finish as a full-time Sprint Cup driver: third. It was a very confident display from the rookie driver who promises to be one of the future stars of the series. There seems to be even more to come from this young driver, which should make every driver on the circuit take notice. Elliott raced in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 and finished 18th in his one and only Sprint Cup start at the circuit.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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