Without wins, a different Kenseth emerges
August 22, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Wins aren't the only thing that have been down for Matt Kenseth. His confidence in winning a second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this year has also taken a bit of a tumble.
The 2003 premier series champion returns to Bristol Motor Speedway as the defending Irwin Tools Night Race champion and the fifth-place driver in the points standings. At this point last year, he was sixth in the standings. His top-fives through 23 races? Eight this year, compared to five last season.
The difference, of course, is victories.
The 42-year-old had a series-leading four of them one year ago (five after the Bristol race) and has zero this year. His No. 20 Toyota has yet to take that sweet ride to Victory Lane, and really hasn't been close -- he has no runner-up showings and only two third-place results, which came in back-to-back weeks at Charlotte and Dover.
"Last year we had four wins up to this point, were on a few poles, we led a ton of laps," Kenseth said. "Obviously we haven't performed like that (in 2014). Last year, the way we were performing, my confidence for winning a championship was way greater, of course. It should be pretty obvious.
" … My confidence isn't near as high with how we're running at this point. I have a ton of confidence in my team and my organization, and my pit crew has been doing better than ever. We've just been off on speed a little bit."
It's been that way for all of Joe Gibbs Racing, actually. It's an interesting dynamic with Kenseth easily the highest of the organization's three drivers in the points standings, but Kyle Busch (15th) and Denny Hamlin (20th) have a victory apiece. That victory guarantees Busch and Hamlin a spot in the postseason field -- provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining three races -- while Kenseth, although he's in a fine spot, has no such assurances.
And just making the Chase isn't enough for Kenseth or his teammates, which is why the missing speed problem has become amplified.
"Just because you're in the Chase doesn't mean you have a chance to win the championship," Kenseth said. "There's going to be a lot of cars in the Chase that aren't going to have a prayer.
"Certainly with three weeks to go until the Chase, even if all three of us get in, we realize that we have to be running better to have a legitimate shot at winning (the title). And we're all working really hard at that."