For Matt Kenseth, the suspense of his attempt to land three straight Sprint Cup victories ended almost before the race began.

On the pace laps leading up to Sunday's Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kenseth sensed a problem with his engine. He was right.

Having started 40th on an owner points provisional after a poor qualifying run, he had his suspicions confirmed on the first lap, when the engine began to fail. It expired before he could complete his seventh circuit.

The winner of the Daytona 500 and Auto Club 500 took the #17 USG Sheetrock Ford to the garage, and the bid to become the first driver to win the first three Cup races to begin a season was over.

"Winning the third race, seriously, was the furthest thing from my mind," said Kenseth, who slipped to third in the points standings, "We approach it one race at a time, and I'm very, very thankful for the first two weeks of the season that we had, and for the opportunity to drive this car.

"You're going to break stuff once in a while. I think it's the first engine we broke in two years. It's bound to happen sooner or later.... We didn't even really get to race today, and we qualified bad, so it was a pretty long weekend for nothing."

Asked what he thought was the problem, Kenseth admitted that he wasn't entirely sure, but expected the Roush Fenway team - which also lost David Ragan to engine problems and had Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards limp to the finish - to bounce back in Atlanta.

"I think it had some kind of valvetrain issue - that's basically what it sounded like, but I don't know," the former Cup Series champion reported, "Something busted in there. I don't know [what it is, but] it broke right away. It quit making power and it started sounding funny. You know when something is wrong.

"It's disappointing we didn't get to race today, but Doug Yates and those guys do a great job on engines. Without their horsepower, we couldn't win races like last week, so I can't really complain about those guys. It's just something that happens every now and again and it's just unfortunate it happened to us today."

The 43rd-place finish was only Kenseth's second since graduating to the Cup Series.

"I don't know that I've ever dropped out on lap one before, but it's never really easy," he sighed, "It's disappointing no matter what. I'm glad we did great the last two weeks, but, really, you take it one week at a time and shift your focus to that race each and every week."

Ragan, meanwhile, suspected that his engine failure was similar to Kenseth's, although it took until lap 73 for the UPS Ford to drop out.

"On the restart, it just started skipping and popping," he revealed, "We switched ignition boxes because I felt like it might just be something small, but it kept getting worse and worse and just wouldn't go down the straightaway. It looks like something just let go in the engine.

"All of the engines come from one source and they all do a great job, knock on wood. In four years at Roush Fenway this is the first time I've had an engine failure, but things like this happen when you are always trying to get the most out of things and I'm just disappointed it had to happen this early in the race. I wish we could have at least got to race some more."

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

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