NASCAR & Auto Racing

Matt Kenseth's long title shot got longer at Loudon

DOVER, Del. - Matt Kenseth entered the Chase already thinking he was a long shot to win a Cup title.

Then he got caught up in a wreck, was knocked out at New Hampshire and saw his championship hopes all but evaporate.

The former Cup champion is going to need the run of his career if he has any shot of becoming a factor over the final nine Chase races. Kenseth was 40th last week at New Hampshire and is in 12th place in the standings - already 177 points behind co-leaders Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson and 78 points behind Jeff Gordon in 11th.

Kenseth had three straight top-10 finishes before he finished the final "regular season" race at Richmond in 39th and limped into the Chase. The finish forced Kenseth to concede, "I don't think we'll be a factor."

Kenseth - one of only two drivers to have qualified for all five Chase fields - said he can't dwell on his long road ahead.

"If you can go out and win races or finish up in the top five, you're going to get a lot of points, more than most people," Kenseth said on Friday. "I think you just concentrate on that every week and hope it's enough."

Kenseth hasn't won a race all season or finished higher than third, two things he'll need to do on a regular basis over the final nine races. He starts eighth for Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway.

Kenseth hopes to keep his No. 17 Ford up front to avoid the kind of crashes in the rear that ended his race early last week. He hasn't seen a replay and doesn't plan too, either.

"The only thing that we could've done to not be in the wreck was to be running better and be ahead of it, so really my focus is to get ourselves running better so we can be up front," he said.

A second Cup title isn't necessarily lost yet for Kenseth. After all, Jimmie Johnson finished 39th at New Hampshire in 2006 and didn't have a top 10 finish in any of his next three races before taking off and winning the title. Kenseth - who won on the Monster Mile in 2006 - can only wish he has similar luck down the stretch.