NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Dominates Michigan

NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Dominates Michigan

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates crushed their competition last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. The No. 20 led Sunday's race from pole and barely allowed any other driver a sniff at the front of the field. The team has been on a tear recently, winning five of the last six races. Kyle Busch's resurgence set the spark that enabled Kenseth to score two wins in the last three races, but Gibbs as a whole have floated to the top of the heap of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition in recent weeks. The team is building momentum as the Chase for the Championship approaches, which is tremendous news for its drivers and a warning shot for its competitors.

The series is approaching the cut-off for the Chase, and Gibbs appears to be wresting hold of the momentum at the perfect moment. However, there are still a few races to be run before the knockout competition begins, and plenty of teams could gain the upper hand in that span. Next week the series visits Bristol Motor Speedway, and the picture could completely change by the time that race concludes.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth - Despite not having the most Michigan wins through his career, Kenseth turned on the afterburners last week. The pole sitter was among the leaders all day and was arguably the best car on track last Sunday. He dominated the afternoon at Michigan leading 146 of the 200 laps on hand. His win at Michigan was Kenseth's second

Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates crushed their competition last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. The No. 20 led Sunday's race from pole and barely allowed any other driver a sniff at the front of the field. The team has been on a tear recently, winning five of the last six races. Kyle Busch's resurgence set the spark that enabled Kenseth to score two wins in the last three races, but Gibbs as a whole have floated to the top of the heap of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition in recent weeks. The team is building momentum as the Chase for the Championship approaches, which is tremendous news for its drivers and a warning shot for its competitors.

The series is approaching the cut-off for the Chase, and Gibbs appears to be wresting hold of the momentum at the perfect moment. However, there are still a few races to be run before the knockout competition begins, and plenty of teams could gain the upper hand in that span. Next week the series visits Bristol Motor Speedway, and the picture could completely change by the time that race concludes.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth - Despite not having the most Michigan wins through his career, Kenseth turned on the afterburners last week. The pole sitter was among the leaders all day and was arguably the best car on track last Sunday. He dominated the afternoon at Michigan leading 146 of the 200 laps on hand. His win at Michigan was Kenseth's second in the last three races, and puts him at the top of the charts for momentum after Kyle Busch most recently held the reigns. Kenseth has four Bristol wins, and his average finish at the track is 11.8 from 31 career starts. He won there earlier this season, and has a fantastic opportunity to sweep the season at the short oval.

Austin Dillon -
After having to move to the rear of the pack for the start on Sunday, Dillon found himself running inside the top-5 for much of Sunday's race. The No. 3 was forced to change an engine after qualifying, which subjected him to the penalty. That setback didn't seem to affect him, though. The No. 3 continued digging all afternoon, and was able to work his way into a confident top-5 finish despite having to overcome the adversity of starting at the rear of the field. Dillon has one top-10 Bristol finish in three starts, but the Richard Childress Racing driver has been improving recently, and should be capable of another promising result.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Last weekend didn't start too well for Truex. The No. 78 took a few practice sessions before he discovered the speed inherent in his Chevrolet. He didn't lead any laps, but came from 22nd position at the start to finish third. It was Truex's second top-5 finish in the last five races, and could be a signal that he is beginning to rediscover his amazing form from the start of the season. He hasn't finished inside the top 10 at Bristol since 2012, and his average finish at the track is 20.7. Next week could be a difficult endeavor for the No. 78, but Truex has been on an upswing in form and his early-season finishes were among the best.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick tried to stretch his fuel one lap too far again last week. After losing a victory in Watkins Glen due to a fuel shortage the No. 4 team ran it short by one lap again in Michigan. The good news was that Harvick was forced to coast to pit lane after losing power relatively early in the running, but that still made a potential victory last week much more difficult. Harvick had enough distance remaining to fight back to a top finish. The squad did just that and claimed a top-5 despite digesting the early mistake. Harvick has started inside the top five in each of the last two Bristol races, but hasn't finished in the top 10 there since 2011.

Joey Logano -
Penske Racing was behind the competition from the very beginning last week in Michigan. The Ford-powered cars were nowhere to be found in the opening practices, but started to discover some speed as the race approached. Logano was able to capitalize on that turn in performance, and worked his way into the top 10 on Sunday. The Watkins Glen winner used that small bit of momentum to salvage a respectable result from what should have been a forgettable weekend. Logano will need every bit of momentum he can muster as the Chase approaches, and Michigan's top-10 will help. Logano won the fall Bristol race last season, and could be a likely repeat again in 2015 with his current form.

DOWNGRADE

David Ragan - Ragan had another exciting opportunity fizzle out last week. The No. 55 showed speed in practice on the Michigan oval and qualified 13th. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver was the first to lose control just as the race got underway, though. The spin dug a hole that he was climbing out of for the rest of the distance. In the end, he finished on the lead lap in 18th position, but arguably could have done more without the trouble. Ragan continues to show practice and qualifying speed that should produce top results, but as of yet hasn't converted it in a race distance. He scored his only top-5 of the season on a short track, though, which is where we head next.

Clint Bowyer -
As the number of races wind down toward the Chase, a poor result was not what Bowyer needed. He was racing in the pack on Sunday when he ran out of room next to Ryan Newman and found himself spinning to the inside wall. The resulting damage was more than enough to ruin Bowyer's afternoon. When the distance was complete the No. 15 was only scored 41st. It was a terrible day for the driver on the bubble of making it into the Chase. Bowyer hasn't finished inside the top 10 at Bristol since 2013, and it seems as though a top-5 or better will be too much to hope for this season.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson's day was not the greatest in Michigan either. The No. 48 spun into the grass late in Sunday's race to add to the struggle he has had in the past few weeks. Sunday's spin damaged Johnson's car and sent him to the pits for repairs, and stole a top finish. His 39th-place finish on Sunday is not representative of what this team is capable of achieving. The good news for fantasy owners is that Johnson has been better at Bristol. He has one win and an average finish of 14.5 from 27 career starts at the concrete bullring. The team needs to overcome their spats of bad luck before the Chase gets underway, but Johnson still shows flashes of speed that make him a contender.

Carl Edwards -
Circumstances predicted a great outing for Edwards at Michigan last week. The No. 19 ran well at the track earlier in the season, and showed his muscle in practice before the green flag waved. He was among the leaders until an attempt to save fuel under caution caused him to lose power and fall from contention. Still, the No. 19 was able to battle his way back to a top-10 finish, but everyone now wonders what would have been possible had he not had the issue. Edwards is a three-time Bristol winner with his last victory coming last season. His average finish is 15.2 from 22 career starts, which is pretty good for the short concrete track and he could use a boost as the Chase approaches.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ryan Newman - Just when you think Newman and the No. 31 team can be counted out they demonstrate the capability that got them so far in 2014. The team should have been a footnote in last week's Michigan race, yet the team battled forward and was able to claim their 11th top-10 finish of the season. The team has been struggling in recent weeks, but they remain in Chase contention on points despite not having a win to their credit. Newman would feel significantly more comfortable with a win under his belt, but he is also no stranger to advancing on points. He has never won at Bristol, but finished fifth there earlier this season before his bad luck truly began to take hold.

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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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