Matt Kenseth: “I Think Our Teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing is Second to None”

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

By Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor

FORT WORTH, TX – While undoubtedly the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have been the strongest all season long, the four drivers and Furniture Row Racing alliance teammate Martin Truex Jr. have espoused a teammate mentality, a mentality that was put on full display a couple of weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway when three of the four JGR drivers rode around in the back in order to protect their Chase berth.

As the season winds to a close, however, and the Round of 8 has two races left to set the Championship 4 for the season finale, tensions are rising. Perhaps that teamwork mentality in and of itself isn’t going to win an individual driver a championship.

As the race wound down at Martinsville Speedway, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch, were all vying for a spot in the top three. As eventual winner Jimmie Johnson drove away and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski went by for second, Busch became frustrated as he felt like Hamlin was holding him up instead of letting him by to go try and run down the leaders.

“We’re in a team business, but we’re also in a business to win for our sponsors and ourselves,” Hamlin said post-Martinsville. “At the end, you have to do what’s best for yourself. But I definitely didn’t feel like we were holding anyone up at the end by any means. I didn’t even see (Busch) at the end. But, you know, it’s just part of it. We’re all frustrated. We had probably the first-, second-, third-fastest cars throughout the day, then we end up three, four, five. It’s frustrating for all of us.”

Busch didn’t agree.

“We probably could have been about second, I don’t know if we could have got up there and caught (Johnson) as long as we got caught up behind all that stuff,” Busch said. “So it’s frustrating not to be higher up.”

On Friday, Kenseth addressed the conflict and how it is being handled behind the scenes at JGR.

“I think our teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing is second to none,” said Kenseth. “I’ve had a lot of great teammates, none any better than what I have now, that’s for sure. Everybody is really, really competitive and wants to win. Our goal was to have four cars at Homestead and now there’s only three spots left. Every week we talk about what we can do to help each other, and make things better but we also realize when they drop the green on Sunday, it’s one against 39 and have to get the best finish we can for our respective teams.”

Kenseth went on to explain what he thinks a “good teammate” does and how that will continue to work with his teammates.

“It’s not very hard,” he continued. “I think being a good teammate is working as hard as you can during the week, working hard during practice sharing what you learn throughout practice – sharing information on the car and trying to help each other. We all rely on that on Sundays. That’s what this sport was built on – one guy racing against the others and trying to win. I think we all realize that and the world is changing, too. Organizations are big and everyone has different affiliations. You heard Kyle (Larson) wanting another Chevy driver to win, so obviously it’s a lot different than what it was even 15 or 20 years ago. It’s way different from what it was then.”

With that said, there is no doubt that the Chase is having an impact with just three races left in the season, and two races left to set the championship.

“The format has brought up certainly a lot of different scenarios,” Kenseth acknowledged. “It’s not as cut and dry as probably when it first came out when everyone thought it was just about winning. There’s things that go on and lots of moving pieces. I think there’s a lot of huge benefits to having good teammates and talented teammates and crew chiefs and all that stuff. The only downfall you can find of it is it’s hard to beat them when they are in the same stuff. I reap the benefits every day of having great teammates and crew chiefs and competitive cars.”

Fellow JGR driver Carl Edwards agreed that, despite the comments Busch made at Martinsville, he still feels as thought the team still works very well together.

“I’ve got great teammates,” said Edwards. “All of us have worked really, really well all year at raising each other’s level of performance so we’ll just continue to work as hard as we can like we’ve been doing but then we race each other really hard at the race track too. We’re all competitors. Once the green flag drops we all know how to race each other, but I don’t think anything obviously will change at least for the next few races.”

As of now, Johnson is the only driver locked into the Championship 4 at Homestead. Hamlin, Kenseth, and Busch are all currently in the top four in points. Hamlin and Kenseth are tied with a six-point cushion over the cutoff point whereas Busch’s cushion is only four points. Meanwhile, teammate Carl Edwards is at the bottom of the current Chase Grid, 31 points outside of the top four. Martin Truex Jr. fell out of Chase contention in the previous round.

The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday will be the second of three races in the Round of 8. It will begin at 2PM ET on NBC.

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