Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in a series of 11 columns by Nextel Cup stars.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -It’s been frustrating the past couple of months, and I don’t know what’s happened.

We just can’t put our finger on it, and if we could figure it out, we’d fix it. To run as good as we did for three quarters of the year, then to struggle right at the end, it’s just frustrating.

Something happened at Kansas. We ran good enough at Dover to win the race. But since then it’s just been an uphill struggle. We’ve struggled in virtually every race since then except Talladega, and even Atlanta, where I finished fourth, was a struggle until about midway through the race.

We still have a great team, and I think it shows because as bad as our cars have been, we’ve still managed to finish in the top 15 consistently. A lot of times in the past two months we’ve had maybe a 25th-place car, but managed to finish a lot better than that.

The guys have done a good job on pit road and we usually manage to make the car better during the race, but we’re nowhere near where we were earlier in the year.

That being said, we still have a chance at Homestead and nobody on the 17 team is giving up by any means. Strange things happen during a race and if (Jimmie Johnson) slips up and has a problem, we need to be there ready to take advantage.

The chances of the 48 team slipping up seems like a long shot at this point. They’ve ran so good over the past five or six races it would have been hard to keep up with them even when we were running good this season.

If they do win it, they deserve it. They’ve gotten hot at the right time and have outperformed everyone over the second half of the Chase. But we’re going to try and put as much pressure on them as we can this weekend.

All we can do is our best with what we’ve got and we can’t worry about anyone else.

We’ll give it everything we have this weekend and just see what happens.

Kenseth’s Q&A with Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:

Q: Well, here we are heading into the finale. You’re 63 points out, how do you feel about it?

A: “It just is what it is. I realize we can’t win without Jimmie having a bad day. Realistically, that’s all there is to it because of the way we’ve struggled. We probably can’t outrun him, but we’ll still try to put ourselves in position to win it if something does happen to him. If it doesn’t, then we’ll just try to maintain second in the standings.”

Q: You started the Chase in first place, and a lot of people picked you to win it based on how hot you were in late August. So are you disappointed with how its turned out?

A: “Yes and no. I’m excited that we haven’t made big mistakes and we are second in the points. But I’m disappointed in our performance, with how we ran. But I’m not really upset about it because I knew a month ago based on how we were running that we weren’t going to win this thing. When we started having problems, I knew we weren’t going to turn it around overnight. So we’ll just go to Homestead and do our best and if we can run decent and be in the top five, then we are only Jimmie having one flat tire away from having a shot.”

Q: How is team morale when you know you are a long shot at best? And how are things with you and crew chief Robbie Reiser? I ask because it seemed like you two had a testy exchange midway through the race Sunday that NBC aired.

A: “I think the morale is OK. I think a lot of people which they were in our position, and I think our team knows that we’ve given everything we’ve got and we made a run at it and wherever we end up there are people out there who wish they could change places.

“And everything is fine with me and Robbie. There wasn’t any testy exchange, it was just him not knowing if we should pit or not and me being frustrated because I’m in the seat and we’re coming out of turn three and he still hasn’t made a decision. But it was nothing testy, and that’s the problem with our sport. Those radio conversations are supposed to be for the crew to communicate and it ends up that 2 million people get to listen in and spin it however they want to. Now because of all the changes going on at Roush Racing, people think something is up with me and Robbie. But the truth is we’ve gotten along better this year than we did a lot of other years. As good, or better, than ever.”

Q: So you are in Las Vegas this week for a sponsor appearance. Are you having fun? Playing any cards?

A: “Vegas always is fun until you run out of money. But I’ve gambled some this week, not too much though because (wife) Katie hasn’t been feeling well so we’ve been hanging out in the room a lot. But I’ll play some poker, some Texas Hold ‘Em, and I also like to play the slots because you can just walk around and not talk to anybody and get away from it all for a little bit.”

Q: OK, you were on a four-game losing streak in Fantasy Football. How did Damage Inc. fare last week?

A: “I won, kicked (publicist) Adrian Parker’s butt. It’s because Chad Johnson finally came into his own. He’d been talking all season and he finally scored some points. But it doesn’t matter. My team is still terrible and I’m not going very far this season.”

AP-ES-11-14-06 1715EST

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