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Kenseth doesn't 'brake' momentum, sails into Chase

August 29, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- At times Saturday night, Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth openly questioned whether his No. 17 Fords would be good enough to contend for a championship this season.

But by the time the Irwin Tools Night Race was over, with Kenseth's virtually brakeless purple Ford sitting in sixth position, Kenseth was smiling on pit road, and singing a slightly different tune.

"It seems like we're close, but we're just not exactly where we need to be."

--MATT KENSETH

That was because Kenseth, his RFR teammate Carl Edwards and five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson all locked themselves into the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup via their finishes; joining Johnson's co-point leader Kyle Busch, who locked in last weekend.

"That is great," Kenseth said. "My guys have been doing a great job this year and it feels good to clinch that spot. I wish we were running just a hair better, but they did a great job."

Kenseth's crew particularly shone on pit road, were they burned off more than one sub-13-second pit stop.

"We qualified great, had a great pit stall, great pit stops good track position -- those are the keys to a good finish and that kept us where we were all night," Kenseth said. "If you would have put us back about 10 more spots, I don't know how far up we would have got. There were moments in the race where we seemed pretty good and other moments we were just kind of hanging out."

Or just hanging on, as early in the race; Kenseth was yipping over his in-car radio about his car's brakes. By Lap 355, with just under 150 laps still to run, Kenseth reported to crew chief Jimmy Fennig, "I know you can't do anything about it, but I have zero brakes."

Fennig told Kenseth several times on the radio that they would address the brake issue at the shop on Monday, and after he carried his car to its 13th top-10 finish of the season, Kenseth was still smiling, as he traded jibes with Jamie McMurray's crew chief, Bono Manion, on pit road.

"The funny thing is, you don't really use much for brakes here," Kenseth said. "But you still need a little bit [laughing], so we just have something wrong with them. They were to the floor on Lap 20 and I wasn't hardly using 'em.

"So I don't know, we've been battling some brakes issues the last few weeks. Hopefully we can figure it out."

But despite that, Kenseth was one of only two cars -- along with race-winner Brad Keselowski's -- that was never scored out of the top 10 for all 500 of the race's laps.

"I had a couple good restarts and was able to get the lead," Kenseth said in his low-key style. "It was kind of a struggle in a way, but it was good. I mean, we ran up front quite a bit. But the 24 [Jeff Gordon] was the class of the field -- he could run so fast on new tires, but like I said, I don't know why it was so hard to pass, but it is."

But Kenseth's worst position was where he finished, after he fell back from restarting fourth after the last stop.

"I had a heck of a battle with Jamie [McMurray] there, coming to the finish line and I wish I could have gotten him for fifth but it was a good battle. It was next to impossible to pass for nearly 20 laps and you had to get everything you could in the first 10 or 20 laps [after a restart] and then, after that you just drive the track, racing as hard as you could."

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Despite his brake issues, Kenseth led 110 laps en route to qualifying for his seventh Chase in eight editions. Kenseth is now third in the Sprint Cup point standings, with two victories.

"We struggled with our car, and if we didn't have the track position that we did, I don't think we would have finished that good," Kenseth said. "But I guess sixth was the lowest we ran all night, so we did the best that we could."

With just two races remaining before the Chase cutoff, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action next weekend for a Labor Day Weekend showdown at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Roush Fenway has won six times in the Sprint Cup Series at AMS.

Kenseth feels like he's on the verge of contending for his second championship to go with the first, which he won in 2003, the last of the non-Chase championships.

"I think we've just got to get the cars a little better," Kenseth said. "The pit road stuff, the last two weeks, has been way above average. They've been as good as anybody on pit road the last two weeks, which is really encouraging and it's a good time of year to have that.

"We've been qualifying really good and we got speed in our cars, we've just got to get them to drive a little better and to race just a little better. It seems like we're close, but we're just not exactly where we need to be."

* Reactions: Kenseth, others comment on pit road