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Kenseth Arrives At Richmond With Lighter Load

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 10 2010

Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth – pictured here at Richmond last fall – all came up short of making the 2009 Chase. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

It appears Clint Bowyer is going to be among the 12 drivers qualifying for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But that doesn’t mean Bowyer is feeling comfortable as he heads to Richmond leading 13th-place Ryan Newman by 117 points.

Matt Kenseth has first-hand knowledge of how nothing is set in stone until that final regular-season race is run.

Kenseth, the last driver to win a Cup championship before the Chase format was adopted in 2004, made the postseason lineup each of the first five years of the Chase.

A year ago, he came to Richmond holding on for dear life to the 12th and final spot in the postseason, leading Brian Vickers by just 20 points and Kyle Busch by 37.

When the engines stopped roaring on the .75-mile Richmond oval, Kenseth was a disappointing 25th. Both Vickers and Busch had passed him in the standings, with Vickers getting the final spot.

Kenseth won’t have any trepidations going into the Richmond race this year. He clinched a spot in the Chase last week in Atlanta with an 11th-place finish. But he well remembers the anxiety attendant to being on the bubble a year ago, especially after a pretty miserable second half of the season.

“We were in it going into Richmond and got bumped out there,’’ Kenseth said. “But while some people think I’m pessimistic, I think I’m a realist, and last year I could see it coming for three months.

“You kept trying to hang on and get as many points as you could every week and run the best you could, but you can usually tell, you can feel if you’re gonna be good enough to get in on performance or not.’’

Kenseth said he isn’t one of those guys who spends time during the week figuring out all the numbers and possibilities.

“You spend your week trying to figure out how you’re going to run the best you can no matter where you’re at in the points,’’ he said. “And no matter where you’ve been running every week,  you work as hard as you can all the time to try and put together a competitive effort with the goal of trying to win races and championships.”

Like the rest of his four-car Roush Fenway Racing team, Kenseth has struggled badly at times this season as their cars have come up short on horsepower and handling. But, somehow, they’ve hung and improved enough that going into Saturday night’s race, Carl Edwards is fifth, Kenseth is ninth and Greg Biffle is 11th in the points.

Biffle hasn’t yet clinched his spot in the Chase, but it would take a complete collapse at Richmond to miss out.

“Last year, I went in there with about a 70-point cushion and that was really stressful, but this will be nice, going with 161 points,’’ Biffle said. “We can take a breath, relax and make sure we get in.”

Kenseth too is happy to be in the Chase, but his season hasn’t exactly been a world-beater.

He has no poles, no wins and only five top-fives and 10 top-10s in the first 25 races. Another sign of a mediocre season – at least for a former champion like Kenseth – is that he has led only 35 laps all year.

Being a self-proclaimed realist, he doesn’t try to sugar coat the situation.

“This year has been very marginal the last couple of months on performance,’’ Kenseth said.

But things are far from hopeless, especially since he is at least in the Chase field.

“We’ve been making improvements the last four or five weeks and we’ve been feeling better about it each and every week,’’ Kenseth noted. “We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ve been getting a little better.”

Of course Kenseth is one of the longest of long shots to win another title this year. But just being in the Chase makes all the difference. All it takes, starting next week at Loudon, N.H., is a couple of hot weeks and … you never know.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 10 2010
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