FORT WORTH, Texas — The opening laps of the AAA Texas 500 on a green Texas Motor Speedway were “fast. Really fast” for Matt Kenseth.
But the rest of the 293-lap, rain-shortened race was “mediocre” for the Chase driver. Kenseth finished where he started the night, in seventh. He was the third-highest placing Joe Gibbs Racing driver, following winner Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in fifth.
“We just didn’t run good enough this weekend to get it done really,” Kenseth told NBC Sports after his seventh top-10 run in nine races.
“We were just sort of mediocre, a little better than where we finished. I couldn’t keep the track position or get a lot of it back. It was really hard for me to pass cars today. When we had a clean track, we could run some decent lap times, but I was just kind of stuck where I was most of the day.”
Kenseth had an average running spot of 7.63 while getting as high as second.
“(Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) did a good job,” Kenseth said. “One time we pitted early and got a few spots and got up to fifth, but then we just got behind on the second-to-last pit stop and when I got behind people we were just kind of mediocre. I just couldn’t really pass anybody, but if you put me in line in fifth I could run fifth. Unfortunately, a couple of those guys got in front of me and I couldn’t get back around them.”
Kenseth is fifth in the Chase standings, one point out of the top four. His last chance to cement a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
The 2003 Sprint Cup champion has one win at Phoenix, but it came in 2002 when the track had a different configuration. In 27 starts, he has six top fives.
To join Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in the title race, Kenseth can either win, which would be his first since the July race at Loudon, or be one of a possible two drivers who get in on points.
The obvious road block to a Phoenix win is Kevin Harvick, who has won six of the last eight races there. That makes Kenseth slightly resigned to having to get in on points. Should Harvick win, he would take a third spot, leaving only one spot available in the championship round via points.
“Kevin is dominant is an understatement at Phoenix so you almost have to pencil him in for that third spot,” Kenseth said. “So, really I feel like the rest of us are fighting for that fourth spot next week. You know, we’re just going to have to go there. It hasn’t necessarily been our best track but we’ve ran pretty well there lately, so we just have to go there with the idea to try and win the race, try to lead some laps, get some bonus points and hopefully get a good enough finish.”