Matt Kenseth's results are far from indicative of his performance thus far in 2016.
The 2003 series champion has led laps in five of the first six races, leading 144 total. However, he has just one top ten finish to his credit, a seventh at Phoenix. In fact, this is his slowest start to the season (results wise) since 2005.
However, his driver rating exemplifies just how misleading those results could be to the casual viewer. His current rating of 97.9 is only bested by five other drivers.
Things really aren't that bad. I still feel pretty good about it. It's only April.
In the Daytona 500, the driver of the No. 20 was in control with just a quarter of a lap remaining in NASCAR's biggest race, only to be pushed up high after a failed block on teammate Denny Hamlin. He would cross the finish line 14th in a crushing defeat.
At Atlanta, a pit road error cost Kenseth mightily. Not only did he lose a lap due to the consequent penalty, but a second lap because NASCAR stopped scoring him while the team argued their point. This relegated him to a undeserved 19th-place finish after leading 47 laps early on.
With 43 laps to go at the following race in Las Vegas, he was battling door-to-door with Martin Truex Jr. just outside the top five when he lost control. The veteran was able to gather up the car, only to be rear-ended at a high rate of speed by Chase Elliott, who had almost no time to react. He finished 37th.
Kenseth stayed out of trouble at PIR, bringing home his only top ten of the season, as mentioned before. But at Fontana, things went sour again, collecting an uncontrolled tire penalty after running up front. He fought back, only to have to make an unscheduled pit stop and to be caught speeding during it, finishing 19th.
Martinsville has to rank as one of the most frustrating thus far though, outside of the 500. He battled for the lead throughout the race and restarted second on a restart with a handful of laps to go. Despite having one of the strongest cars in the field, he dropped to the back after being unable to force his way to the inside line. He ended that once-promising day in 15th.
How you want to look at it
"The results have been disappointing, but we've ran pretty well," said Kenseth, earlier this week. "We've been in contention in a couple races. Neither of them worked out. We had fast enough cars, if all of the stars were aligned, maybe we'd win a couple more.
"I think it all depends on how you want to look at it. I feel if you run well enough, over time the law of averages is going to work out, you're going to win some races, you're going to get some finishes. It's just tough to go through when you're not getting good finishes, but I'd much rather run the way we're running, perform the way we're performing, and not get the finishes then be a 15th-place car and luck into a ninth-place finish.”
Rebounding at Texas?
Now we go to Texas, a track he won at twice before, but Victory Lane at TMS has eluded him since 2011. He starts ninth in tonight's 500-miler.
"Texas is one of those places that when I was at Roush was probably my best track,” Kenseth said. "I felt like even years we didn't run well other places, we always finished well there, always ran well there. We were able to win twice, were in position to win a couple more times and got beat real late. Since I've been over (at JGR), it's been a struggle for some reason. We haven't run very well the last three years there, so I'm looking forward to going back and seeing if we can make it better."
Despite Kenseth's own struggles, Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole has been thriving this year. Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, while Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in Martinsville. And Carl Edwards, who is on pole for tonight's race, came mere inches away from winning after a thrilling last lap at Phoenix.
"We've been having good times," added Kenseth.
"Things really aren't that bad. I still feel pretty good about it. It's only April. Kyle raced only half the season last year and won the championship, so I feel pretty good about where we're at to be honest with you. We have the speed where we can go out and contend for wins and race up in the top five and six consistently if everything goes right and we all do our jobs. That's fun and that's encouraging. If we keep running like that, (good) finishes will eventually come."