Are Expectations Too High for Matt Kenseth’s Return?

It’s been well-publicized that Matt Kenseth is coming back on Saturday, May 12th at Kansas Speedway, replacing Trevor Bayne for quite a few races this season. Bayne has had an absolutely disastrous start to the season, with an average finish of 24th, a best finish of 12th, and zero — count ‘em — zero lead lap finishes. With numbers like those it’s no wonder Bayne has been cast aside for a proven veteran. Jack Roush, Bayne’s car owner, has clearly had enough.

It’s not just Bayne’s 2018 numbers that have underwhelmed, either. In his 58 races over five seasons with the Wood Brothers, Bayne’s only top five finish was his 2011 Daytona 500 win, which, while a nice story, Bayne clearly lucked into. With tandem racing, it seemed like every win was luck, though it helps that Bayne’s pusher was Ford teammate Carl Edwards. In the 175 races Bayne has run since that win, he has only four top five finishes and sixteen top ten finishes. That’s a top ten rate below ten percent. He also has 77 lead lap finishes in his 177 career Cup races, a cringeworthy 44 percent. That’s a big fat F on the 27-year-old’s report card.

The question arises, though, of how much of Bayne’s struggles should be attributed to Bayne, and how much to Roush-Fenway Racing’s performance issues? Well, Matt Kenseth should help answer that question for the organization which used to run five full-time Cup Series teams. What, then, should we expect from the 46-year-old Kenseth? Wishful thinking has led many to expect, or at least hope, that Kenseth will win at least one of the races he’ll appear in this season. After all, he won his second-to-last race last season, so it’s not like age has had any effect on the veteran. However, it’s also important to remember that Kenseth hasn’t been in the car in nearly six months, so there’ll be some rust to shake off.

It’s also worth considering whether Roush even has winning equipment any more (save for restrictor-plate tracks, of course). I mean, their last non-restrictor-plate win came when Carl Edwards won at Sonoma in 2014. Edwards left the organization for Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2014 season. Roush failed to win in the next three seasons, before Stenhouse won two restrictor plate races in 2017. Stenhouse has had some decent runs this season, and, for him, a win doesn’t seem so far off. Assuming the No. 6 program is on the same level as Stenhouse’s No. 17, Kenseth could have a shot at some good runs. Realistically, though, his best shot to win will be at Daytona in July and Talladega in October, assuming he runs each race (neither is an Advocare-sponsored race, so Kenseth is expected to be in the car). It’s not out of the question for Kenseth to win at another track, though. He could do it anywhere.

It will all come down to whether Roush’s equipment is good enough to win. If there’s anyone that can figure that out, it’s 39-time winner Matt Kenseth.

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