Crew chief Jimmy Fennig quietly leading Matt Kenseth and team in right direction

[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”259″][/media-credit]Matt Kenseth finished fourth in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 with a car that he referred to a few times as “absolute junk.”

Like most of the competition, Kenseth spent much of the day fighting either a loose or tight condition and sometimes a little of both. While he battled his way into the top-10, his No. 17 Crown Royal team battled on pit road to adjust his car. With every opportunity given, adjustments were made and the progress began.

Kenseth was strong enough to maintain in the top-10 for much of the event.  Although the race was expected to be a dominating performance for all four of the Roush-Fenway Racing drivers, but none other them where a factor for the win.

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Kenseth and teammate Carl Edwards were the only two who finished in the top-10 and currently sit in the top-10 in points. That made the race an oddball in itself as none of the four drivers even led a lap.

As the race wound down it was Kenseth however, who said he came up a few laps short from giving the top three a run for their money. When the caution flag flew on lap 185 for the final time, putting the race into the crew chief’s hands, Jimmy Fennig brought Kenseth down pit road and called two tires and no fuel.

On the restart Kenseth went from ninth to fourth where he stalled out and finished. Afterwards he praised his pit crew for their hard work, his crew chief and spotter and said given more time he might have been able to challenge for the win. Fennig told the team they’re “knocking on the door” and will win one soon.

“The last two weeks, Jimmy (Fennig) and these guys have made some great adjustments,” said Kenseth on Sunday. “They had our Crown Royal Ford the best it has been all day at the end of the race, which is important.”

The team did the same last weekend in Bristol where Kenseth had again started 11th and came home fourth.

“It’s a good day for us,” he said. “Of course you are always greedy and want more. I was the first guy on tires and I didn’t do probably a good a job as I need to on the restart. It just took a while to get there, but we got another top-five finish this weekend and just ran out of time to get any more positions today.”

Kenseth now sits 10th in points as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville this upcoming weekend. Kenseth’s silent but deadly approach, of which he’s made a career of is off to a fast start in 2011. But there’s nothing silent about Martinsville.

Kenseth ruffled a few feathers last season in the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 when Jeff Gordon and him had a pushing and shoving match during a green-white-checkered finish. It was Kenseth who cost Gordon the win according to some, while it was Gordon who made sure Kenseth couldn’t win.

The result was an 18th place finish last season. He’s never won at the paperclip in Virginia but has completed 99 percent of the laps and has a pretty good understanding of what Martinsville is all about: short tempers.

“Martinsville is probably not our best track, but, statistically, it’s probably not our worst either,” he said. “It’s just one that I get aggravated at and probably don’t use my head as much as I should at times. I think it’s more of a Matt thing trying to be patient and not let my emotions get the best of me. You can never get away from anybody it feels like so it can get frustrating.”

As Kenseth’s describes, Martinsville doesn’t leave much room for drivers to work. It’s a track that has drivers making a living by bumping, banging and annoying other drivers.

Fennig is well aware of that. It puts the pressure on the team to make sure the car is handling correctly in order for Kenseth to navigate the what is bound to be an all day traffic jam.

“Track position is really important since you don’t have the long straightaways to be able to make passes like we would at longer tracks,” said Fennig. “So we’ll make sure that our No. 17 Ford turns well in the center of the turns and that it has good grip off the turns in order to race down the short straightaways.”

Their quiet consistency and never give up attitude the last two weeks is what made the No. 17 team champions in 2003. With back-to-back top five finishes their climb through the points has begun and they confidence is growing that they’re getting closer to their first win since February of 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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