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Did Matt Kenseth leave his game in Daytona or LA? What's going on in the Roush camp anyway?

   This is not a happy man. Since winning Daytona and California, Matt Kenseth's season has gone into a slump (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Wait till Texas?
    That may be the battle cry here Sunday for Jack Roush's guys.
   After Matt Kenseth opened the season with back to back wins at Daytona and California, the Roush camp was riding high.
   But then the Roush men hit a few bumps in the road, lost a couple of engines, lost momentum….and last weekend at Bristol they flat fell off the radar.
   Carl Edwards, Roush's steadiest, and fifth in the standings, ran 15th at Bristol, the best for the Ford contingent. The rest were, well, Edwards concedes "as a group, Roush Fenway had a terrible week.
    "Greg Biffle was pretty good (until his engine broke). But other than that I thought we were all just mediocre."
   And Martinsville Speedway has never been a favorite for these guys. They never led a lap last spring, thought they did better in the fall, Edwards finishing third (he was eighth in the spring). And Jamie McMurray tends to run well here too.
   But what's happened to Kenseth?
   After win-win, he blew an engine early at Vegas and finished dead last. He pulled off a 12th at Atlanta, and then a dismal 33rd at Bristol.
  Perhaps telling is Kenseth's qualifying this season – 39th, 24th, 40th, 30th and 33rd. Nothing like starting the day in a deep hole….
  "We've not had a very good last three races," Kenseth concedes. "It's been pretty challenging, to say the least.
    "And I always feel this is one of my worst places. I seem to struggle here.
   "But as bad as things were last week, I don't think they can be much worse.
   "I'm looking forward to forgetting about last week."
   However this week the talk is Gordon-versus-Johnson, and Busch-versus-Busch.
   "Kyle proved last year he can win at any track every week….and everybody has known Kurt can do it," Kenseth says.
   "When Kurt was at Roush's, and was in real good stuff with (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig, their personalities worked so well together.  That was kind of the magic. And he's taken a while to get that back at Penske's.
    "But certainly if he can get that relationship going with Pat (Tryson, his crew chief), and they can get their stuff running good enough, Kurt is more than capable of winning every week too.
    "So they certainly could keep winning."
    Well, can Kenseth get back on track?
  "We've run good here, and we've had some good finishes," he says. "But we've run bad here too. 
    "For me it's just a particularly frustrating track. 
"It's hard to be patient.  It seems like you're always getting run into, or you're running into somebody…or there's not enough room. 
    "My biggest problem has been giving the right information to the crew. If my car is as fast as Jimmie Johnson's, I can drive with him here.  It's not really a very tricky place to get around.  It's pretty basic. 
    "It's not that hard a track to drive….but it's really hard for me to dissect the car -- what it's doing, and what I need to change to make it feel like I want."
   So Roush's best bets Sunday are probably Edwards and McMurray.
   Edwards' game plan, though, appears to be 'big picture,' as in championship: "The last time here we were real fast, a second or third-place car all day, so hopefully we're as good….and we haven't gone off on a path saying 'Hey, we're going to try all this new stuff.'  We're just trying to make sure we've got this setup so at the end of the year when it really matters, we're fast at these places.
    "The three goals for me this season --- win two races, and a championship…and those two races would be a Martinsville race and a road course.
    "Those have been the two most difficult things to master. I'm far from being a master here at Martinsville, but I feel I'm getting better at the road courses.
    "Wins at those two places would mean the world to me.
    "What makes this place so difficult is it's the small things, the very tiny things, that make you faster. 
    "When you say 'It's loose in the center,' it's only loose for a second-and-a-half, or seven-tenths of a second. At a place like Atlanta or California, it's a lot simpler to diagnose your car because you're sliding through two or three seconds of it being loose or tight, and it's really easy to relay that to your crew chief.
   "Here it's just very precise. Everything here happens about twice as fast as it normally does, and that's what makes it tough for me.
    "Bobby Hamilton gave me some great advice here about just trying to get into a groove and using all your senses to not make mistakes….and then relax. 
    "I've been working on that every time I come back.
   "I felt like I won the last race. Jimmie (Johnson) won and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. was second and we were third.  I was so pumped about that.  That felt really, really good. 
    "It felt like a victory.
    "It may appear like this is what I grew up on -- this size track. But a dirt track this size drives like a 1-1/2-mile pavement track.  Everything happens slowly. There's a lot of moving around in the corner. 
    "This short-track pavement racing is something I hadn't really done until I got to this level of the sport. So it's been really difficult to master."
    Talk about a rollercoaster, what's happened in the Jack Roush camp? Bobby Labonte (L) and David Ragan ponder (Photo: Autostock)

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