Kenseth, Blickensderfer already proven to be a winning combo
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Matt Kenseth is off to the best start of his Sprint Cup Series career, thanks in big part to his new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup Series champion, started the season with a victory in last week's rain-shortened Daytona 500, and then followed up by holding off Jeff Gordon in the closing laps to win Sunday's Auto Club 500 in Fontana, CA. He joined Marvin Panch (1957), Bob Welborn (1959), David Pearson (1976) and Gordon (1997) as the only drivers to win the first two races of the Cup season.
No driver has ever started the year with three consecutive wins.
Although Kenseth made the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" in 2008, his fifth-straight year in the playoffs, the Roush Fenway Racing driver had a winless season for the first time since 2001. That led team owner Jack Roush to make changes to Kenseth's team during the offseason, with Blickensderfer taking over crew chief duties.
After winning the last two Nationwide Series races with driver Carl Edwards last year, Blickensderfer is now two-for-two in his first season as a Sprint Cup crew chief.
"Drew has brought magic to the team," Roush said. "We'll credit what we've got going for us early as 'the Drew factor' and look forward to carrying that forward."
Drew Blickensderfer (R) is now two-for-two in his first season as a Sprint Cup crew chief.
Blickensderfer spent the past three seasons as a Nationwide crew chief in the Roush Fenway organization. He worked with Kenseth in his Nationwide efforts in 2007 and half of 2008 before moving over to Edwards' team for the final 19 races of the season. Edwards finished second in the series point standings, 21 markers behind champion Clint Bowyer.
Two months ago, Blickensderfer replaced Chip Bolin, who returned to his previous role as team engineer. Bolin took over as Kenseth's crew chief at the start of the 2008 season when Robbie Reiser was elevated to team general manager. Reiser guided Kenseth in the Sprint Cup from 2000-07.
"A lot of things that Robbie did, a lot of organizational skills, a lot of leadership skills that Robbie did, I tried to mold myself around," Blickensderfer said. "Robbie is an extremely large part. He's pulled me aside probably three times this (past) week when I was at the shop. He talked to me about different things. It's huge to have Robbie Reiser 60 feet away from your office that you can go over and talk to."
After taking the win at California, Kenseth is probably even more enthusiastic about his team right now than he was after the triumph at Daytona.
"I just feel great about the group we have assembled," Kenseth said. "Everybody's having fun. Everybody's loose. Everyone's performing at the same time. I think that Drew has given the leadership and the spark they kind of need, and Chip has all the extra time to work on the cars and keep up with engineering and the data, sift through all that stuff. They've been able to work great together so far."
Kenseth's crew did a superb job in getting him out of the pits the quickest at California, especially when he beat Gordon on the final round of stops.
Winning the Daytona 500 will perhaps go down as the biggest victory in Kenseth and Blickensderfer's career, but taking the checkered flag at California has certainly added momentum towards a possible championship campaign this year. Las Vegas is the next stop on the schedule, and the two are optimistic about their chances of winning at the 1.5-mile track. Kenseth scored back-to-back victories at Las Vegas from 2003-04.
"I feel really good about Vegas," Kenseth said. "I felt good coming here (at California). I don't think a win will ever be as big in our career as winning the Daytona 500. In a way, this feels almost better. This isn't restrictor plate. You don't need other people's help. Luck is not involved quite as much.
"We had to come here and figure out how to beat the other 43 teams on speed and strategy and adjustments and all that stuff. Really these are the races that make up the bulk of the schedule. Whether you run good or bad at these tracks has more of a determining fact on making the Chase or running for a championship. It feels pretty unbelievable to win the first two races."
While Jimmie Johnson and the No.48 team attempt to win their record fourth straight Sprint Cup championship, it's probably safe to say with two wins already under their belts and a new crew chief that has brought along some "magic" tricks with him, Kenseth and the No.17 team have now established themselves as serious title contenders this year.
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