CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Matt Kenseth was a five-time winner this time last year and an established championship threat. He doesn't feel any less confident about his title chances this season even though he has not visited Victory Lane.
Kenseth goes into Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend winless, but ranked a solid fifth in the Sprint Cup standings. With just two races remaining to set the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, Kenseth should make it in on points and doesn't feel like he needs to go for broke to get a win in the next 2 weeks.
"When you try harder than your hardest, that's when you always get in trouble. That's when you wreck," Kenseth said. "I don't know that we even need a win. I believe in momentum, to a certain point, but I don't necessarily need a win. I'd just like to have 2 solid weeks."
The field will be reset following the Sept. 6 race at Richmond, and Kenseth believes his Joe Gibbs Racing team is far more prepared for a run at the title than they were a year ago.
That may seem strange considering Kenseth had a dream debut season in the No. 20 Toyota, which he drove to a series-high seven wins while taking Jimmie Johnson to the wire before Johnson captured his sixth title.
But Kenseth is currently only 25 points behind third-place driver Brad Keselowski, a three-time winner this season, and he points to wrecks at Sonoma, Pocono and Michigan for not having him closer to the top of the standings.
"We'd be close to the lead," he said. "I feel like it's been a solid year, we just haven't been dominant. We've been good. We've been between a fourth and eighth-place car. That isn't good enough to win it all, but it's good enough to be in the conversation."
So what needs to change?
Not much, according to Kenseth.
He doesn't think his team is very far off from Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske, and they've excelled at finishing higher than they should.
He doesn't believe he had a third-place car at Bristol last week, but landed there through strategy when he found himself in contention for the win near the end of the race.
"If we can just get that little bit more we need, I feel like everything is in place as good, or in some ways better, than it was last year," Kenseth said. "I feel like our pit stops are better than they were last year. Confidence and execution and planning are better than they were last year. Everything is right there, if we can just get that little bit extra out of our cars that I know we need, I feel like the rest of it is in place, and we can put together a string of races and be very competitive and hopefully contend."