Matt Kenseth knows he won't contend for a second NASCAR Sprint Series Cup championship with average results.
So, the Cambridge native wouldn't mind gambling on race strategy like Clint Bowyer did Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
As Tony Stewart ran out of gas on the second-to-last lap, Bowyer, who also pushed the limits of fuel mileage, breezed past Stewart and held off Denny Hamlin to win the first race of the Chase. Bowyer vaulted 10 spots from 12th to second in the Chase standings and is 35 points behind top-seeded Hamlin.
After a 23rd-place finish at New Hampshire, Kenseth has his work cut out Sunday at Dover. He came into the Chase as the 11th seed and dropped to the bottom of the 12-driver standings, 136 points behind Hamlin.
Kenseth said if he capitalizes on opponents' mistakes, much like Bowyer, his Roush Fenway team could make an impact.
"You've got to be smart," Kenseth said in a telephone interview. "You have to take advantage of every situation and not make mistakes; get the best you can out of every race.
"You're not going to be in a position to win every race, and when you're not, you have to figure it out — whether it's pit stops or strategy or fuel mileage — to figure out how to get that finish when you don't have the best car."
The 2003 Cup champion is satisfied to be in title contention after a tumultuous 2010 season for his Roush Fenway team, which has cycled through three crew chiefs and two new car chiefs through 26 races.
Though Kenseth admits he doesn't have a "real great" shot at the title, if the team strings together consistent results, it could turn out to be a thrilling end to the season.
"If we hit it and get good finishes, we could be in a good position," said Kenseth, who has posted wins at six of the 10 tracks that host the final races on the schedule.
Kenseth feels like he's communicating well with Jimmy Fennig, a veteran crew chief who earned a championship with Kurt Busch and race victories with driver Mark Martin. But Kenseth said the entire No. 17 crew needs to be on the same page and make correct adjustments as races unfold.
Kenseth was running in fourth place at Richmond Speedway a couple of weeks ago, but when the team couldn't strike a balance with car set-up throughout the race, he wound up 14th.
"That's always a concern for me, if we're not right on," he said. "Or even if we are, we really struggle adjusting our car during the race and giving it what it needs to be competitive."
Prior to the Chase, Kenseth collected five top-five finishes and posted an average finish of 12.6. Reviewing recent strong finishes with fast cars by teammates and Chase contenders Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, Kenseth hopes to follow suit.
"The most positive thing is that we're in the Chase, our team has been running better and picking up our performance," Kenseth said. "We could get on a hot streak and anything could happen."