BROOKLYN, Mich. -- More than halfway to the 2006 Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, any NASCAR driver close to elimination can look to Matt Kenseth for inspiration.
A year ago, Kenseth arrived at Michigan International Speedway 24th in the standings after 14 races, 700 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 320 points from 10th-place Tony Stewart.
The 10-race Chase includes the top 10 drivers in the standings and any others within 400 points of the leader after 26 races. But only the top 10 have made it in the first two years of the Chase.
When the Richmond race was done last September, Kenseth was eighth in the points and solidly in the playoff. The 2003 series champion went on to finish seventh in the standings -- not as good as he had hoped, but a lot better than things looked in June.
The intervening year has changed a lot for the Roush Racing driver. He heads into today's
``Looking back on it, I can say I'm definitely glad we've started 2006 the way we have," Kenseth said. ``The first 14 or so races of 2005 were not a lot of fun."
Greg Biffle, Kenseth's teammate and the defending champ in today's race, doesn't need a big charge to get into the top 10, but he does need to find some consistency.
Last year's series runner-up got off to a terrible start this season, but is now up to 12th and has closed the gap on 10th-place Kyle Busch to 27 points.
Besides the points race, today's focus also will be on Bill Lester, the first black driver to compete in the Cup series since Willy T. Ribbs in 1986.