When the year began, most thought Matt Kenseth would flourish in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
After all, Kenseth was still in the prime of his career while JGR is one of the top teams in the NASCAR garage, regularly fielding cars capable of contending for the championship.
But as the Sprint Cup Series reaches the halfway point this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, few foresaw the pairing having the success it has through the first 17 races. With his win last Sunday at Kentucky Speedway, Kenseth now has a series-best four victories and no driver has led more laps.
"The season has obviously been really great for us," Kenseth said Thursday at Daytona. "I think it's been better than any of us could have imagined.
"I'd sit around and daydream and wish and think about things like this happening this season. But I never really realistically thought that before the halfway point that we'd have four wins and be in the running and leading all of those laps and run as good as we have been."
Kenseth joined JGR after 13 seasons with Roush and initially he was uncertain how he would fit in with his new team. The transition, however, has been seamless. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff have quickly developed a rapport with one another and the 2003 Cup champion has embraced his new surroundings.
"From the first time I walked in there, you are learning certain things and maybe a little nervous," he said. "But they've really made me feel comfortable and made me feel a part of the team, a part of the family and a part of the program over there for sure."
But as great as he has been, Kenseth still doesn't view himself as the championship favorite. He regards five-time champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson as the benchmark who everyone is measuring themselves against.
Johnson currently holds a resounding 38-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards and has an 82-point margin between himself and Kenseth, who is ranked fifth overall.
"It's really hard to pick anything apart about (Johnson) as a driver or that as a program," Kenseth said. "They're pretty good. You know if you're going to have a chance to win a race or a championship you always have to go through the 48."
If there is a difference between Johnson and Kenseth, it boils down to consistency.
This season, Johnson has placed outside the top 25 just once, whereas Kenseth has finishes of 37th, 35th, 40th and 25th and has been hampered by a Toyota engine that has lacked reliability.
But as Kenseth has stated many times throughout the season, he feels his team has unlimited potential and all things being equal, can outperform the No. 48 team.
And as the NASCAR schedule moves into the second half, it's maintaining that high level which is his focus.
"I felt like the sky was the limit with this team and I really do," Kenseth said. "It's just a great group. Everything is going really good and everybody is really focused on keeping it going good."