Matt Kenseth was getting used to success. Kenseth edged out Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the rookie of the year award in 2000 and won a series-high five races in 2002. One year later, he dominated the points race and easily won the first Cup ...
Matt Kenseth was getting used to success.
Kenseth edged out Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the rookie of the year award in 2000 and won a series-high five races in 2002. One year later, he dominated the points race and easily won the first Cup Series championship for Roush Racing.
The team won two races early in 2004 but quickly slid into mediocrity. They made the 10 car Chase for the Championship field, but managed just one top-10 finish in the final 10 races and finished eighth in the standings.
2005 didn't start off much better. They finished 42nd after blowing the motor in the season-opening Daytona 500 and were mired in 23rd place in the point standings by the 12th race of the season.
But after posting top five finishes in four of the past six races, and finishing second to Earnhardt in Chicago last weekend, Kenseth and the #17 team hope that the magic has finally returned.
"I was disappointed last weekend when the win slipped away from us, but I am happy about the progress we've made over the past several weeks," said Kenseth, who led a season-high 176 laps in Chicago. "It has been a while since we've had the dominant car on the track and it felt good."
Kenseth is hoping to continue his hot streak this weekend in the New England 300 on Sunday in New Hampshire (1:30 p.m. Eastern on TNT). Kenseth won the Busch race at NHIS last July and has top five finishes in the past four races, including a second-place finish behind Kurt Busch last September.
"We've had some success there," said crew chief Robbie Reiser. "We were so close to getting our first win last weekend in Chicago, and the team is more determined now than ever to make that happen. I'm very pleased with the consistency that we've shown over the last five or six weeks."
Kenseth's fortune started to turn with a seventh-place run last month at Dover. Two weeks later in Michigan, Kenseth ran with the leaders and picked up a fourth-place finish -- his best of the season. He followed up with an 11th place run at Sonoma and ninth at Daytona before last week's dominant performance. Kenseth has jumped to 16th in the standings, 202 points behind teammate Kurt Busch, who is 10th.
"We're gaining on the top-10 on our way to working ourselves back into the Chase, and that has been our focus," said Kenseth, who is looking to add to Jack Roush's series-leading six wins at NHIS. "It seems like we figured something out that helps us perform better, about three or four weeks ago, and if we can keep our performance how it is and not have problems, I think we can still get back in it."
Many suggested the points system was changed to the new playoff format because of the dominant -- and dull -- way that Kenseth won the championship two years ago. This year, the new format may work to Kenseth's advantage. If he can work his way into the playoff, the #17 team will have as a good a shot at winning the title as guys like Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle, who have been strong all year.
"They asked me two weeks ago if we thought we'd make the Chase and I really honestly think we can," said Kenseth, who on Thursday helped Ford unveil the new Fusion racing model that will debut in 2006. "Robbie's (Reiser, crew chief) done a great job figuring out some things on these cars to make them run faster."
Kenseth's Roush Racing teammates -- Biffle, Busch, Mark Martin and Carl Edwards -- are all ahead of him in the standings and he has gone to them for help in turning around his own program. The feedback is proving beneficial.
"We've used a lot of Greg's (Biffle) stuff," said Kenseth, who has led just seven races this season. "Greg and the 16 crew have helped us a lot. I know we have the equipment and the personnel to get it done, and right now it seems like it's all coming together."