Monday morning NASCAR recap: Kenseth, JGR perfect match; Keselowski's tenacity will be tested

Jerry Markland

Analyzing the key takeaways from Sunday’s NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway.

Matt Kenseth's win at Kansas Speedway was not a statement. No, that came in March when he went to Victory Lane for the first time with a team other than Roush Fenway Racing.

What Sunday represented was further confirmation that Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing are a perfect match of driver and team.

Not happy with the status quo at Roush and wanting more consistency on the sponsorship side of things, Kenseth left the only team he had driven for full-time at the Sprint Cup level.

It was a decision that has quickly proven beneficial to all involved.

"I just knew it was the right place for me with the right group at the right time and all that stuff," Kenseth said following his 26th career victory. "Honestly, I just knew there wasn't any doubt. I just knew that that was where I needed to be and where I felt like I had the best chance to be the most successful."

Kenseth has quickly adapted to his new home and through eight races has made more trips to the winner's circle than the entire Roush team combined. He also no longer has a revolving door of sponsors that have been piecemealed together. His No. 20 team is fully funded, a stark contrast to last year when his car had races with little to no sponsorship.

For JGR, Kenseth's veteran presence and laidback demeanor have been a welcome addition, as he has mixed well with the mercurial duo of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

While both are highly skilled, neither driver have yet to fully tap his wealth of talent. What they needed was a veteran driver in the fold who they could use as a sounding board and resource of information while at the same time someone who would not be threatened by their expansive personalities.

"I think with Denny and Kyle, what they both like about Matt is they've kind of given him the leadership role, and Matt is happy to take it on," said JGR team president J.D. Gibbs. "And so I think for us it's just a great connection.

"I think it's just watching all three guys walk in step, and they look to Matt and realize he has enough experience and he's gifted behind the wheel. They listen to him."

JGR also needed a proven winner, a driver who could restore the luster to the No. 20 team after four years of mediocrity and so-so results.

All the qualifications Gibbs needed Kenseth has more than fulfilled. And all these traits were on display Sunday at Kansas.

While Busch had another bad outing on a track where he's never recorded a top five, and with Hamlin still sidelined, it was Kenseth who took control of JGR's fortunes.

Starting on the pole, Kenseth led all but one of the first 111 laps.

Then, as the sun came out and the track evolved, there was no screaming on the radio about the changing conditions. Even as Kenseth fell back in the running order due to varying pit strategies, he remained patient.

And just as he did at Las Vegas, when being out front mattered the most, there was Kenseth in the lead, again holding off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne for the win.

"I couldn't have had a better feeling about it all when I decided to do it, and certainly that feeling hasn't changed," Kenseth said. "I feel like it's really a special group. I think Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) is a special guy. "It's a special organization.

"They've got everything they need there to win races and championships."

More than anything, what JGR now has is a driver who knows how to put the pieces to the puzzle together.

Suspensions will test Keselowski's resolve

It's become a regular occurrence throughout Brad Keselowski's career that his resilience will find a way to overcome whatever challenge is standing in his way.

It was a mantra that was on full display at Kansas, where early damage to the rear of his car cost him a lap to the leaders. And even when the rear sheet metal started peeling away like the top of a tin can, it still wasn't enough to slow Keselowski, who once again somehow finished sixth.

"Usually, you're not happy unless you win," Keselowski said, but a day where you can fight through adversity like we did today and get a solid finish, that kind of is a win, yes."

This followed a week when Penske Racing was in the news for illegal suspension pieces found on its cars at Texas and subsequently punished heavily by NASCAR. As a result, Keselowski's dogged tenacity will serve him well as he prepares to encounter one of his toughest challenges yet.

Barring a miracle -- or a really lenient appeals board -- Keselowski will be without his crew chief, car chief, lead engineer and Penske Racing's competition director for six races.

While a team might be able to overcome those losses individually, added together and compounded with the fact that sanctions have been levied against both of Penske's full-time teams, the depth of the organization has been cut to the core.

But whether it was winning races with a broken ankle, toppling Jimmie Johnson in last year's Chase or rallying back in consecutive weeks to finish in the top ten after being a lap down, it's becoming unwise to ever count Keselowski out.

When the suspensions become official, in all likelihood the No. 2 team won't perform at the same level as it would otherwise.

The drop, however, shouldn't be perceptible. With enough of a point cushion to maintain a top-ten position in the standings, Keselowski can still afford to aggressively pursue wins even with his team is at less than full strength.

And if he does win sometime over the next six weeks, it will just be the latest example of Keselowski doing the unexpected so frequently it has almost become expected.

More from SB Nation:

NFL mock draft: Thursday looms

Pet plays from NBA playoff teams

Matt Kenseth wins STP 400 at Kansas

Graeme McDowell wins 2013 RBC Heritage

Derek Jeter out through All-Star break

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