Matt Kenseth hopes to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season, although he admits his team's current form will not make it easy to maintain his place in the top-12 in the drivers standings.
The 2003 Sprint Cup champion is currently running 12th in the championship and just ten points separate him from Kyle Busch, who won two weeks ago at Bristol and is making a late charge to get himself in contention for the title. Kenseth reckons that the battle for a spot in the play-off will be a tough one over the next two weeks, as the points gap between drivers at the bottom of the Chase zone is currently very tight.
"We're right there on the bubble," says Kenseth. "If you take out the first couple of weeks of the season, the season has been a little bit of a disappointment for us. We haven't run quite as good as we hoped to and finished probably worse than we ran most of the time through all kinds of different circumstances – fuel mileage or flat tires or what have you – but I look forward to going to Atlanta. It's a great track.
"I look forward to Richmond as well, so I'm glad we're still in the top 12. I know it's really close all the way back to 14th or 15th, and I think it's going to be a battle right to the last lap at Richmond, so, hopefully, we can have our cars be competitive this weekend as well as next and get ourselves in that Chase."
Kenseth has scored top-15 finishes in the last five races, and those results have not allowed him to move higher than 11th in the standing. The Roush Fenway driver stunned the Cup field by winning the first two races of the year, but since then his season has been a struggle. He says his team has had poor luck and been unable to get good finishes for many reasons, even when he has showed the pace to do so.
"We've run good enough a few times to win races, if all the stars would have aligned - which they didn't - but then sometimes it's just been hard for us to get finishes for some reason," said Kenseth. "It's been uncharacteristic of this team. One thing that we were always known for, it seems like, is if we were having a mediocre day and running 13th, 14th or 15th, somehow we'd finish seventh, eighth or ninth and finish better than we were running all the time.
"This year, more times than not, it's been the opposite. There have been days like the first Pocono, where we ran second, third and fourth all day and couldn't make it on fuel and finished 18th or something like that. It's been a season full of that, it seems like."
Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have been the only drivers to make the Chase every year since the format was implemented in 2004.