Matt Kenseth is always dangerous. The Wisconsin native has finished in the top 10 in points the last four years. But when he's off to a fast start and has confidence in his corner, the steady and consistent racer is really a force.
With a win under his belt and a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway up next, Kenseth's season is off to perhaps the best start he could have asked for.
"It feels good to get off to a good start," Kenseth said. "Last year we didn't, but a couple of years before that, we did, and it certainly helped us. I think we won early in '03 and '04, so hopefully we can keep it up all the way through the year -- keep the same level of energy and excitement and work on the cars and doing all the stuff that we are right now, and the level of performance all the way through the year."
Kenseth has been off to fast starts before. But there's something special about starting with a win.
"We haven't won a ton of races the last three years -- one or two a year -- and whenever you can win, it feels good," he said. "Hopefully this will carry some momentum, and we'll be able to get to Victory Lane a few more times this year."
This weekend would be a solid bet. You never know what can happen during the course of a race, but in six tries, Kenseth has two victories in Vegas. Last year's eighth-place finish makes it three top 10s in Sin City.
Consider also the confidence coursing through the team right now and you'll understand crew chief Robbie Reiser's feeling that the season could start off with a winning streak.
"They're here to race, and they're here to win races and the championship this year," Reiser said. "I think they're determined to do that with what they showed up with at Daytona and what they had [at California] is championship caliber. Hopefully we can keep that momentum and keep doing what we're doing."
Reiser pointed to his driver's resolve as evidence for why he believes the team can keep heading in the right direction. At Daytona, the No. 17 team thought it had a car capable of winning. An altercation with Tony Stewart sent that dream out the window, though, as Kenseth took a mid-race spin through the grass and out of contention.
"He could have given up," Reiser said of his driver. Neither Kenseth nor the crew did, however, and they fought for a 15th-place finish. The next week, that fight -- along with a California win -- vaulted Kenseth and Co. to third in the standings.
"Sometimes it feels like there is justice in the world," Kenseth said. "It feels good because I felt [at Daytona] we had a car that could have won. We've had those days, where we were the dominant car, but it didn't work out, so it feels good to pop out and win this one [in California], when we maybe didn't have the most dominant car. You'll have more days where you don't have the outcome that you want than you do the ones that pop up and surprise you and you have it. So when you have a chance to win at the end it definitely feels good no matter how it comes."
More than anything, Kenseth is excited about knowing he's going to be a contender. After an offseason spent in the garage, watching the crew pore over the cars and hoping that all of the effort is worth something, it's a huge boost to come right out of the gates and get a positive response.
"It's definitely a big confidence builder as a driver," Kenseth said. "Things change every year. You keep developing different stuff and it always feels good to start off the year having your car balanced right and driving the way it's supposed to and doing all those things. It gives you a lot of confidence going into the year that what you did over the winter and what Robbie did over the winter and everybody was right and they [built] you the right cars and they [built] you stuff that's going to run fast and run up front, so I think it's a big plus to start off strong."
Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.