In a NASCAR teleconference Wednesday afternoon, 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth discussed a number of topics with members of the media.
Questions about the upcoming Chase for the Championship dominated the discussion. Kenseth had this to say on what type of performance he thinks it will take to win this year's title:
"I think you just got to be beyond really good. I mean, I don't remember which year it was, it was a couple years ago, when Jeff Gordon had, I don't know, a fifth or sixth place average finish and lost the championship over 10 weeks. It was just unheard of, how good them guys were.
"It seems like Jimmie and Chad and that whole group have had a way of being able to do as good as they need to to win the championship. If somebody is running that good, they figure out how to do just a little bit better. There's been times where maybe the second-place guy hasn't done quite as good. It just seems like they're able to, at least in the past, last five years, been able to step it up and do just a little bit better than whoever is doing the best at that time."
In response to a question asked by yours truly, Kenseth wouldn't exactly say who he thought would be the top competition in the Chase:
"Well, this is kind of the generic answer you're probably going to get, but I think after Richmond, going to Chicago, I think it's all 12 drivers. I think all 11 of them are guys that are legitimately contenders. As the Chase goes on, you kind of prove every year a few of them drop out early, it gets to be a smaller group. Each week it gets [to be] a smaller group that realistically has a shot.
"Look at Brad, for instance. A month and a half ago, I don't think anybody in the media or garage would have uttered his name at the same time mentioning his name when they're talking about winning the championship this year. I don't think anybody would have thought of that. Look at how amazing his streak has been here the last month—month and a half—whatever it's been. Now, I mean, he's almost got to be one of your picks to have a shot at it. Things can change pretty quickly. I think everybody's a contender to start off with."
I followed up with a question about how Kenseth feels about his chances heading into the Chase this year versus the past few seasons:
"You know, it's been funny. There's been times I went into the Chase and I've been, believe it or not brimming with confidence, just feel like we're one of the favorites, and we haven't won it. Haven't won one since we've been in the Chase yet. There have been other times where I haven't felt so good and we've done well."You never know. I feel like since we're going to be part of that group, if we can do everything right, we can be a contender if everything goes our way. The breaks go our way, if we run as good as I feel we're capable of running. You never know what's going to happen until you get into it."
The Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this week, a fast, slick track well known for producing great racing and lots of passing under green. Kenseth had this to say about what to expect at the track this time around:
"I'm not sure about the tires for sure until we get there. The speed falling off and the drop-off, the tire wear, all that stuff is a good thing, in my opinion, for racing. I think it makes it much more interesting. I think it creates a lot more passing and side-by-side racing. Those are good things.
"When you can take off fast on four new tires, be slow at the end of the a fuel run, some guys get four, some guys get two, that creates passing. When everybody is running the same speed on new tires and old tires, that's what creates no passing, it's all being about a hundred percent track passion. When you go to Atlanta, your car really wants new tires, that promotes really good racing."
Matt Kenseth is currently third in points with two wins and is locked into the Chase with two races to go in the regular season. If the Chase started today, he'd start out ranked third behind Kyle Busch (four wins) and Kevin Harvick (three wins).
Kenseth has been running well lately and will be doing his best to pick up a few more bonus points for the Chase by racking up a third victory in 2011 either at Atlanta or Richmond, the last two races before the Chase.