FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Matt Kenseth was already behind before the first race, and wasn't in much better shape after it.
When his car failed inspection after qualifying at the Daytona 500, Kenseth was penalized 50 points. Then with a chance for a likely top-10 finish, he crashed on the final lap of the season opener.
Five races later, Kenseth has made quite a comeback â€“ moving from 40th to fourth in NASCAR Nextel Cup points with 836, 130 behind leader Jeff Gordon.
"When I look at how everything went, I don't think we can be in a much better spot than what we're in," said Kenseth, the 2003 series champion. "To have only had five races since then, I don't think we could ask for much more than that."
Kenseth won the second race in California, just as he did a year ago when he was the Nextel Cup runner-up to champion Jimmie Johnson. And he hasn't finished lower than 11th since, moving within one spot and 37 points in the standings of where he was at the same point in 2006.
Now Kenseth has a chance to make up even more ground.
After Nextel Cup's Easter break, the series is back Sunday in Texas, the high-banked 1 1/2-mile track where Kenseth is one of 12 different winners -- in 12 races.
Kenseth won at Texas in 2002, and has three top-10 finishes there in six races since without finishing worst than 18th. He was second last spring, following a third-place showing in the track's first fall race in 2005.
"I've always liked the high-banked fast race tracks," Kenseth said.
Sure he does, because he's had a lot of success on those.
Before the last two short-track runs in NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow at Martinsville and Bristol, Kenseth finished third at Atlanta in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. While Texas is faster, Atlanta is very similar and owned by Bruton Smith.
"It's always been challenging. It's kind of unique because it's kind of a flat entry to the corner," Kenseth said of Texas. "I really liked it after the track's widened out. ... There are a couple of grooves here, and that's what makes it a lot more fun."
Kenseth also looks forward to this weekend because he gets to drive his "old" car again.
Texas is the only track in a four-race span where the Car of Tomorrow isn't being used. The COTs return for Phoenix.
"Once they get rid of them, you won't hear all the talk about it because that will just be what we race," Kenseth said. "The car of today just drives so much better and has so much stick and just looks more like a race car, compared to that new car.
"To get back to Texas should be a good feeling. Even if our car isn't running good, it will still be a good feeling," he said.
At Bristol, in the first COT race, Kenseth's car had a broken exhaust pipe. He said the heat melted the protective foam inside the door, and the fumes made him sick.
Despite those problems, Kenseth still finished 11th. He had no similar problems in the COT when he was 10th at Martinsville in the last race.
Kenseth is also driving in the Busch race Saturday at Texas. He won in 2004, one of his nine top-10 finishes in 11 Busch runs there.