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With Chase contender Kenseth, what you see is what you get

10/11/2007 - NASCAR

CONCORD, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth owns a modest-size building in nearby Mooresville in which he has an office, gym and garage to keep some of his personal cars and motorcycles.

It's painted white.

Or vanilla, just like him.

There's no flash when it comes to the 2003 Nextel Cup champion. He's not beyond wearing blue jeans to a charity golf outing because he doesn't believe in putting on false pretenses.

He's not putting on any in the championship Chase, either.

"You know, we don't really have a shot at it unless the leaders have a disaster," he said matter-of-factly.

Kenseth knows his chances of winning a second title are slim to none as he prepares for Saturday night's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He's in 11th place, 318 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

He's had three straight finishes of 26th or worse, his toughest stretch since the 2001 season.

But Kenseth isn't in a panic. He's not trying to figure out what it will take for him to get back into the hunt any more than he is lamenting losing the title a year ago because of a late-season collapse.

"Everybody tries to overanalyze everything," he said. "It's a pretty simple concept. Unless you're in the last race and you have a 100-point lead, your strategy doesn't change.

"You try to get the most points, lead the most laps, so on and so forth. It's not like there is not a cute strategy where this week I've got to go out and finish ninth. You want to go win every week."

That was Kenseth's strategy a year ago. He entered the fifth race at LMS six points behind Jeff Burton and left 45 back after a 14th-place finish. A week later, after an 11th at Martinsville, he had a 36-point lead over Kevin Harvick.

"I was feeling good that we were leading it," Kenseth said. "I also was feeling bad that we had an opportunity to have the thing stretched out and we didn't take advantage of that opportunity.

"We ran real good all year and then we got in the Chase and didn't perform well. That was real disappointing."

It's the complete opposite situation from this season. Kenseth has had the cars to run with Gordon and second-place Jimmie Johnson. He finished seventh in the Chase opener at New Hampshire and seemed poised to jump to the points lead three-quarters through the following week's race at Dover.

Then disaster struck.

His engine blew on Lap 374 of 400 after leading a race-high 192. The 35th-place finish, followed by another 35th at Kansas with a car capable of finishing in the top five, left him 219 out of the lead.

The misery mounted last week at Talladega, where he was an innocent bystander in an 11-car wreck that left him 26th.

"We've just had some bad luck, some bad things happen," Kenseth said. "Last year, we had everything go for us, but we didn't have the car performance. I guess you can't have it all at the same time."

Kenseth can accept the bad luck. Being a man that doesn't like change, whose reputation is built on consistency and not taking chances, last year's collapse was hard to accept.

Matt Kenseth


We've just had some bad luck, some bad things happen. Last year, we had everything go for us but we didn't have the car performance. I guess you can't have it all at the same time.

-- Matt Kenseth

"A lot of it was management at Roush," he said. "They took some people out of key positions. They took Jimmy Fennig out of the shop and let him go to the Busch shop and run my Busch program. They took a head engineer out and made him a crew chief for Carl Edwards."

Some of the changes were made just prior to the Chase. Others were made earlier, but were just as damaging.

"They had things so mixed up and upside down over there that in the long run it ended up costing me a championship," Kenseth said. "They were so worried about fixing the problem for all that they slowed some things down."

Although soft-spoken for the most part, Kenseth doesn't mind voicing his opinion on such things.

"But a lot of that stuff came from management and I can't do anything about it," he said. "Just like we don't want to call it a merger what we have going on now [with Robert Yates Racing] where we can have seven teams.

"I think that's totally wrong, but I don't have any say on that."

Roush recently announced plans to form a partnership in which his five-car team would share everything with RYR's two-car team that could ultimately grow to four, with one of the cars coming from Roush when it has to reduce to NASCAR's four-car limit.

Not that Kenseth is against sharing information, but he grew up on traditional NASCAR, in which ingenuity and individuality helped separate teams.

It was that way at Roush when he first drove full-time in Cup in 2000.

"The world is a lot different than it was before," he said. "It was optional to share information. Now they want us to share 100 percent of everything, which has its pluses but also has its minuses when you lose people and you can't keep any trade secrets or competitive advantages because everybody knows what you're doing."

Such issues would cause stress to some.

Not Kenseth.

"I've seen his feathers ruffled a little bit," teammate Greg Biffle said. "Him and [crew chief Robbie Reiser] get at each other's throat from time to time, but [he] stays pretty calm for the most part."

Whether it's a golf outing, such as the one he participated in on Tuesday, or cutting the grass at his cabin in Wisconsin, as he did last week, or getting caught up in a multicar wreck at Talladega, his demeanor seldom changes.

Yes, he mows his own grass.

"I'm a pretty normal person," Kenseth said. "Just because we do something for a living that makes us more visible doesn't mean we're not out doing normal stuff.

"I try to handle everything the same. If I finish 13th and try to overanalyze it and do things different than you normally do, it creates problems."

He plans to maintain that philosophy the next six races, regardless of how the Chase goes.

"The way I really focus it is you take every week and you try to get the best you can out of that week," he said. "When you're all done, you glance at the points and see where you are.

"You can't control other people's cars."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.