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AUTO PACKAGE: Kenseth feels team better poised for championship run after breakout season

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Matt Kenseth was a five-time winner this time last year and an established championship threat. He doesn't feel any less confident about his title chances this season even though he has not visited Victory Lane.

Kenseth goes into Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend winless, but ranked a solid fifth in the Sprint Cup standings. With just two races remaining to set the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, Kenseth should make it in on points and doesn't feel like he needs to go for broke to get a win in the next two weeks.

"When you try harder than your hardest, that's when you always get in trouble. That's when you wreck," Kenseth said. "I don't know that we even need a win. I believe in momentum, to a certain point, but I don't necessarily need a win. I'd just like to have two solid weeks."

The field will be reset following the Sept. 6 race at Richmond, and Kenseth believes his Joe Gibbs Racing team is far more prepared for a run at the title than they were a year ago.

That may seem strange considering Kenseth had a dream debut season in the No. 20 Toyota, which he drove to a series-high seven wins while taking Jimmie Johnson to the wire before Johnson captured his sixth title. But Kenseth is currently only 25 points behind third-place driver Brad Keselowski, a three-time winner this season, and he points to wrecks at Sonoma, Pocono and Michigan for not having him closer to the top of the standings.

"We'd be close to the lead," he said. "I feel like it's been a solid year, we just haven't been dominant. We've been good. We've been between a fourth and eighth-place car. That isn't good enough to win it all, but it's good enough to be in the conversation."

So what needs to change?

Not much, according to Kenseth.

He doesn't think his team is very far off from Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske, and they've excelled at finishing higher than they should. He doesn't believe he had a third-place car at Bristol last week, but landed there through strategy when he found himself in contention for the win near the end of the race.

"If we can just get that little bit more we need, I feel like everything is in place as good, or in some ways better, than it was last year," Kenseth said. "I feel like our pit stops are better than they were last year. Confidence and execution and planning are better than they were last year. Everything is right there, if we can just get that little bit extra out of our cars that I know we need, I feel like the rest of it is in place and we can put together a string of races and be very competitive and hopefully contend."

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VENTURINI TO THE BOOTH: Wendy Venturini will make her co-anchor debut in the Performance Racing Network booth for the Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire on Sept. 21. Venturini's stint as co-anchor will mark the first time a woman has co-anchored a Sprint Cup radio broadcast, a milestone Venturini never set out to accomplish but is more than thrilled to reach.

"While I've never set out to be the first woman on a list of firsts in our sport, life has brought me to situations such as these," said Venturini.

Venturini has been preparing for the move to Cup by working alongside PRN President and co-anchor Doug Rice, as well as co-anchor Mark Garrow, for Nationwide Series races since 2012.

"Wendy has an incredible knowledge of our sport and for the past two seasons has been co-anchoring multiple Nationwide Series races on PRN. She has steadily become more comfortable in that role and is ready for a Sprint Cup broadcast," said Rice.

Venturini started her broadcasting career hosting Race City Review, a local racing show, on the Adelphia Cable Network in 2001. She's been a pit reporter for all three of NASCAR's national series and an analyst since 2004 for SPEED and FOX Sports 1.

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SWINDELL RETIRES: Veteran sprint car driver Sammy Swindell announced this week he is retiring from racing except for the Chili Bowl Nationals.

One of the most decorated dirt-track drivers in the country, Swindell won three World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series championships and ranks second in career wins with 294.

Swindell, who is 58, has also claimed almost every major sprint car event, including the Knoxville Nationals, Gold Cup Race of Champions, Kings Royal, Williams Grove National Open and more.

Swindell also won an unprecedented two World of Outlaws features on the same day in 1991 and picked up victories at Bristol Motor Speedway when it was covered in dirt in 2000-01. His five Chili Bowl victories are the most for any driver at the famed midget event.

"I always knew when the time came to retire it would be clear," Swindell said. "I've had a long and very successful career. Part of the reason for the timing now is I've spent the last two weekends with my son, Kevin, racing. I haven't had any time to spend with his racing the last four years. He will drive a Nationwide car for the rest of the year and I want to be there to support him."

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