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New Season, Same Old Situation For Kenseth

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2011

Matt Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig are doing what they do best this season – producing consistent finishes. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Mr. Consistency is up to his old ways and off to a solid start in 2011.

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth arrived at Texas Motor Speedway this week with three top-10 finishes in the first six races of the season and holding down ninth place in the points.

Even better, the veteran Roush Fenway Racing driver loves the 1.5-mile track at the Fort Worth racing facility. In 17 starts there, Kenseth has 11 top-10 finishes, including a win in 2002.

“I love going to Texas and it has always been a good track for us,’’ Kenseth said this week in a NASCAR teleconference. “We have always performed well there as an organization, as well as our individual teams.

“It is one (a track) I always look forward to. It looks like it is going to be great weather. It is going to be hot and we will be racing under the lights, which is really exciting. I am looking forward to the weekend.”

What is it about the Texas oval that makes Kenseth smile?

“It is funny because it seems like the media has dropped it a little bit talking about the ‘cookie-cutter tracks.’ All the 1.5 mile tracks are very unique now, especially with some of the tracks pavement aging like Texas,’’ he explained. “Then you have a place like Charlotte where the pavement is really sticky. They are all a lot different.

“The thing that makes Texas unique is it is real high-banked and real fast and the corner exits and

Matt Kenseth has eyes on the track, not on the points. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

entry are real flat. It is always a challenge to negotiate that. There are some bumps here and there, but the pavement is pretty wore out. The groove moves around where you can run the top and bottom and it has made for some really exciting racing recently, and I don’t see that being different this week. I am sure the racing will be great like it always is. It is a unique track and one that I always look forward to going to.”

Kenseth, known as much for his consistency as for his solid driving ability, won the last Cup championship under the points system that ended in 2003. NASCAR went to the Chase format the next year. Kenseth has made the 10-race postseason in all but one season since it was instituted, including last year’s fifth-place finish..

But he has yet to win a second title and, at the age of 39, his chances would seem to be diminishing. And now there is yet another new, simplified points system in place.

“I don’t really look at the numbers as much as you might think,’’ Kenseth said. “I glance at the standings once a week to see where we are and, honestly, that is about it.

“I guess you could … figure out where you would be if it was last year’s system, but why? This is what we have to work under. I think that one thing (that) has been a positive is that it is really easy to understand. You know that it is one point per spot except for the winner. … I think it will be harder to recover from problems than it used to be. You used to get more points for being top-10 and top-five and now it is the same all the way up unless you win. It will be easier to get behind and harder to make up big chunks of points.

“You will have to be fast and be up front and, hopefully, win some races and get bonus points,’’ Kenseth added. “But you will have to be consistent and not have many of those really bad days.”

That formula is right up Kenseth’s alley. The Wisconsin driver has made a living – a really good one –

Matt Kenseth practices at one of his favorite tracks, Texas, on Thursday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

out of consistency.

Other than five-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth has qualified for the Chase field more times than anyone. Since joining NASCAR’s top series in 1997, he has racked up 192 top-10 finishes in 406 starts, an amazing 47.3 percent average. And that includes 18 wins.

After consecutive seasons with more than 20 top-10 finishes, Kenseth struggled during long stretches both in 2009 and 2010. He has only 12 top 10s two years ago and moved up to just 15 last year.

But at least part of that struggle was due to a shortage of horsepower in Ford’s engines and other technical problems with the Roush Fenway team. A new, powerful Ford engine and some solid preparation on the technical front have changed all that, with teammate Carl Edwards second in the standings and all four Roush Fenway drivers currently in the top 20 in points.

“It is hard for me to remember the same point last year,’’ Kenseth said. “It is hard for me to remember last week, really. … (It was) the last two months of the (2010) season, when Carl and Greg (Biffle) were winning races and everybody started running good.

“Thankfully, we have continued that through the winter and have come out of the box pretty competitive as an organization and as a team this year.”

That’s great new for Kenseth, who could easily make a strong run at the championship with another one of his signature consistent seasons and a win or two along the way.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2011
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