With a Sprint Cup championship, two Daytona 500 victories and 27 Sprint Cup wins to his name, Matt Kenseth's talent is obvious to all in the NASCAR garage.
Yet once a year, when the Sprint Cup Series visits Sonoma Raceway, Kenseth looks more akin to a rookie than the champion he is. In 13 career starts on the 12-turn, 1.99-mile circuit, he has finished in the top 10 just once and his average finish of 20.8 is the worst out of any track he competes on.
"It's always a challenging weekend, but I am looking forward to it," Kenseth said Friday at Sonoma. "... It hasn't been my best track by any means."
His lack of success at Sonoma notwithstanding, Kenseth says he doesn't dread turning left and right. He points to his handful of top-10 finishes at the series' other road course, Watkins Glen International, as proof that he can drive well on a track other than an oval.
However, Sonoma is a more technical than Watkins Glen, with a tighter racing surface. It's far less forgiving if a driver makes a mistake.
"Everybody groups road courses together — it's kind of like grouping ovals together," Kenseth said. "These two tracks, in my opinion, couldn't be any different. This one's always been very challenging for me. It's really narrow. It's really slick. It's just been a bad challenge."
"I don't know. Hopefully I'll be better at it this week."
Another reason for Kenseth's lack of performance at Sonoma could be the team he was with for 13 years before joining Joe Gibbs Racing this past season.
A Jack Roush-owned car hasn't won on the Northern California track since 1997, and a Ford-backed driver hasn't since 2002. This fact isn't lost on Jeff Gordon.
"When was the last time a Roush car won?" Gordon said. "... I think a lot of it has to do with your willingness to kind of explore and enjoy the adventure that it is. Then your team has to back that up with the right car, brakes, setup for you to be able to do what you need to do.
"Matt's a great driver and I'm sure if the car is where it needs to be then he'll be a threat for a win on a road course. I wouldn't necessarily put it on Matt."
Maybe in part because he's with a new team, Kenseth enters this weekend with a far different mindset than he has previously.
"Our cars have been pretty fast everywhere," he said. "I'm more optimistic today than I've ever been on a Friday coming to Sonoma. You don't know what the day holds or the rest of the weekend holds, but I feel alright about it."