Matt Kenseth in driver’s seat to win second championship

Patrick Smith

With consecutive victories to start the Chase, Matt Kenseth is poised to win his second NASCAR championship.

The first salvo in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup was fired by Matt Kenseth when he led Joe Gibbs Racing to a 1-2 finish a week ago at Chicagoland Speedway.

But that statement victory was almost expected as Kenseth and JGR as an entity have thoroughly dominated races on 1.5-mile tracks with Chicagoland being the sixth win for the organization in seven races this season.

What wasn't expected was for Kenseth to continue his winning ways at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the site of Chase race No. 2.

Kenseth admitted prior to the Chase that New Hampshire, long a track that vexed him, was the oval that most concerned him. And it wasn't just that he was winless in 27 career starts prior to Sunday, it was that he hadn't recorded a finish better than fifth since 2008. Compounding his troubles were his two likeliest challengers for the championship -- Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson -- as both had excelled on the one-mile track and didn't have the history facing Kenseth.

But if Chicagoland was a salvo then Sunday was an all-out offensive. Not only did Kenseth again take the checkered flag and become just the third driver to go 2-for-2 to begin the Chase, but he did so emphatically, leading the final 53 circuits and a race-high 106 of 300 laps.

"You never go to the track and hope to just get through a weekend," Kenseth said, "yet certainly if I had to pick all the races, this is probably one that I had probably more anxiety over than most just because I really feel like I'm the weak link here.

"I was a little bit worried about this weekend more so than some tracks just because it has been a tough track for me. It's tough to pass, it's easy to get shuffled back on a restart and not get such a good finish."

Although Busch and Jimmie Johnson are keeping pace with Kenseth -- Busch finished second Sunday while Johnson was fourth -- a definitive line has been drawn between the three consensus favorites to win the championship. It's not hyperbole to suggest Kenseth's 14-point advantage over Busch and 18 on Johnson appears more ominous than it otherwise is.

Four of the eight remaining Chase races will be conducted on mile-and-a-half tracks (Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead). Each a place where Kenseth has visited Victory Lane previously and plays into the aforementioned wheelhouse of JGR.

"There's really not a track I'm not looking forward to going to, to be honest with you," Kenseth said. "Really, the next eight weeks if you want to talk about anxiety, is Talladega and I think all the drivers would say that."

Yet even his apprehension about the lone remaining restrictor-plate event of the year should come with an asterisk. At Daytona in February Kenseth led the most laps and would have almost certainly factored into the outcome were in not for a faulty Toyota engine. And at Talladega in May, Kenseth again had one of the dominant cars before being shuffled back to eighth.

However, as Kenseth will quickly remind you, two races will not define who drives away with the title, no matter how no significant they are. So while the No. 20 team has stomped out the competition these last two weeks, there are more hurdles lurking.

But if New Hampshire is any indication of how Kenseth's Chase will go, then seeing Kenseth's name engraved on the championship trophy just might be a fait accompli.

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Kenseth wins Loudon, extends Sprint Cup lead

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. salvages sixth-place finish

Pit miscue costs Jeff Gordon shot at win

NASCAR New Hampshire 2013 news and updates

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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