Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Matt Kenseth
2013 Finish: 2nd
2013 Highlight: Pick a win, any of the seven wins. Looking back, the "career year" questions about Kenseth's 2013 are fascinating. Here's a guy with a Cup title to his name and we're wondering if a second-place finish in the points standings was a career year. (Side note: the presence of this discussion is another reason why NASCAR needs to reward winning more.)
Entering 2013, the most laps Kenseth had led in a season was 1,132, which happened in 2006. He obliterated that last year, leading 1,783 laps. A possible reason? Kenseth had far fewer cars to pass to get to the front. In 2012, his average starting position was 13.3, the best of his career. In his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, it jumped all the way to 8.7.
2013 Lowlight: Phoenix, but it's only a lowlight because of the man he was racing for the championship. Most other years, Kenseth has a chance to recover from the mistake and we've got ourselves a fight to the finish. But it was Jimmie Johnson. That wasn't happening.
Why is Kenseth here? Can the Joe Gibbs honeymoon continue? We feel that reality may set in, but it's a reality that's better than 30+ teams in the garage. Kenseth won't win seven races again, but he'll win multiple ones. Making the Chase won't be an issue at all.
How could Kenseth not be here? The year-after-second-place slump escalates to epic proportions and Kenseth assumes the role of Denny Hamlin 2013 at Joe Gibbs Racing and struggles mightily. If it seems quite farfetched to you, don't feel bad, we think so too.
However, if Hamlin and the No. 11 are back to full-strength, it will be fascinating to see if JGR can sustain three top-level teams. The last time that all three JGR teams made the Chase was in 2008, and they finished eighth, ninth and tenth.
Best Winter Olympic event: Matty Ice is from Wisconsin, so he can handle the cold weather. However, ice fishing and watching Packers games outside are not Olympic events. We'll go with the slalom. Kenseth seems shifty enough.
Worst Winter Olympic event: Does Kenseth look like a ski jumper to you?
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