Avondale, Ariz. • Roughly two months into the season, Mark Martin was having a conversation with Matt Kenseth about the fast start to Kenseth's year. Kenseth had grabbed two wins in his first eight races with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Martin believed his former teammate could have legitimately won all eight of the events.
"I expected him to win races and be awesome and be Matt Kenseth, but the start he had, he could have won them all," Martin recalled. "Bar none. That was staggering. â¦ He's living a dream and hitting his full potential, and you don't always get an opportunity to hit your full potential."
It truly is a dream year for Kenseth, who has won a career-best seven races after jumping to JGR following 16 years driving for Jack Roush.
Now, 10 years after winning the only Cup championship of his career, Kenseth is in the thick of another title race. He goes into the penultimate race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway trailing Jimmie Johnson by seven points in the standings.
It's not a surprise that Kenseth is in the championship picture. After all, he finished second to Johnson in 2006 and has made the Chase every year since its 2004 launch except for 2009. What is a surprise is seven wins from a driver who has built a career on consistent finishes. Kenseth's previous best was five wins in 2002.
So in December, as he climbed into his new No. 20 Toyota for JGR for the first time, there's no way Kenseth could have known the spoils ahead of him this season.
"It would have been hard to believe somebody if they said we would have had seven wins and done some of the things that we did this year in our first year together, because throughout my whole career I've never been able to do that," Kenseth admitted.
But part of that may have been because of the ups and downs of the Roush-Fenway Racing organization.
"You put him with the right equipment, the right team, the crew chief that he gels with, he can put up some great numbers, and that's what he's doing this year," said four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
Sprint Cup AdvoCare 500
P Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV • ESPN