One loose lug nut or flat tire, vowed Kenseth, would change the entire championship chase.
He was right, in a very big way.
An engine failure in Burton's car Sunday tightened the Chase for the championship standings, giving NASCAR the title hunt it coveted when it launched this format three seasons ago.
Kenseth is the new leader, leaving Martinsville Speedway with a faint 36-point margin over Kevin Harvick. It marks the first time the points leader has changed during the second half of the Chase.
Kurt Busch took over the top spot following the third Chase race in 2004 and never looked back, while Tony Stewart held down his lead for the final eight weeks of last season. Although both champions went into the finale capable of losing the title, neither did as the Chase failed to produce the dramatic buildup NASCAR coveted.
But this year is shaping up to be everything Brian France hoped and dreamed the Chase would be, with only 99 points separating Kenseth from eighth-place Kasey Kahne - an improvement over last year, when only four drivers were within 100 points of the leader at this stage.
This time around, everyone still has a chance. One bad pit stop or broken part can open it up for anyone to stake a claim on the title.
“It's anybody's championship,” said Jimmie Johnson, who used a victory on Sunday to jump from seventh in the standings to third.
“Any team is still capable of winning the championship, the points are really close right now, so there can be a lot of moving and shaking and I don't think anybody is going to sleep well these next four races.”