Matt Kenseth is one race away from one of the most dramatic comebacks in the brief history of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. Three months ago, Kenseth was sitting 24th in the points and was counted out by pretty much everyone that...
Matt Kenseth is one race away from one of the most dramatic comebacks in the brief history of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
Three months ago, Kenseth was sitting 24th in the points and was counted out by pretty much everyone that wasn't a blood relation. He had one top-10 finish all season and was more than a full year removed from his last visit to Victory Lane.
In the 13 races since then, Kenseth has reeled off nine top-10 finishes, including a dominant win at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago. He leapt up to ninth in the standings and can clinch a spot in the 10-race playoff finale with another good finish at Richmond on Saturday (7:00 p.m. Eastern on TNT).
"It's cool to come from behind and be where we're at right now, but we're not in yet," admitted Kenseth, who was credited with inspiring the new championship format after his relatively uneventful title run two years ago.
"It's so tight right there that I think you've just got to go through things that you know how to do. If we're in it at the end of the day, great, we've made a great comeback. If we're not in it at the end of the day, we still made a great comeback and gave it our best. So as long as we walk away Saturday night knowing we did our best, that's all you can ask for."
The fortunes of the #17 team started to turn around at Michigan International Speedway in June. Kenseth was strong throughout the day and brought home fourth place -- his best finish at that point of the season. He finished second three races later in Chicago and preceded his Bristol win with a third place effort in Michigan in August. The team has started to return to the form that helped them win two of the first three races in 2004.
"Our performance has been up and our finishes have been a little bit better, so I think everybody has been a little bit more excited the last couple of months," said Kenseth the Cup Series rookie of the year in 2000. "I think your goals are to try and win every week, and I think when you're running better in general it's probably a little bit less of a grind and everybody is more excited to get to the track when you're running good."
Kenseth is locked in a five-car battle for the final two spots in the Chase for the Championship. Kenseth (ninth) and Jamie McMurray (10th) are currently in, but Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler are all within 63 points of Kenseth. Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek are also mathematically still in the hunt.
"If we can finish in front of them we're good, if we don't, then we have a chance of not being in," said Kenseth, who made his way into the top-10 for the first time this season with a seventh place finish in California last Saturday. "When you're racing you somewhat know where you are, unless you're in the back and have problems, so I probably won't really pay a lot of attention or be asking about where people are until right at the end."
Kenseth knows that his team has peaked at just the right time -- only Tony Stewart has accumulated more points in the past 10 races -- but is also cautious about his championship chances. Kenseth was fifth when the Chase started last year, but dropped to eighth by the end of the season.
"Just to get in doesn't mean you're gonna run for a championship," said Kenseth, who finished 42nd with a blown motor in the Daytona 500. "It means your eligible, but it doesn't mean you're necessarily going to (win). First, we've got to get in this week. If we get in and we get a good start and are running good six weeks from now and we're in the thick of things, that would be pretty neat to be able to come from that far behind and have a shot at it, but we're not in yet.
"We have made up a lot of points, but we still have to get in tomorrow."