Move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing could impact season
Though his first 15 years in NASCAR’s premier series were with the same organization, Matt Kenseth has seen his share of change. He’s weathered new teammates, new sponsors, new body styles and new crew chiefs -- sometimes a few in the same season. But he’s never been though anything quite like this.
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The 2003 champion has changed teams for the first time in his career, jumping from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing, where his experience adds a veteran savvy to a program previously known for its youth. In the process, though, everything Kenseth has ever known is different. It’s quite a transition for a driver who was a fixture in the No. 17 car for over a decade.
“It’s a completely different team, crew, crew chief, organization, manufacturer, car body style, teammates -- I mean, everything is brand new,” he said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous about it. But I’m also really excited and really looking forward to it.”
The change is big -- but so is the potential. In replacing Joey Logano, Kenseth adds heft to a lineup that returns Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Although Gibbs hasn’t won a title since Tony Stewart left, and mechanical failures have dogged this team in the past, the pieces have long seemed in place. Kenseth, a hands-on driver who ran his No. 17 team with a certain degree of autonomy, could lend a steadying presence that helps his new organization get past its shortcomings and take the next step.
“When you look at Roush, and when they've had their peaks and valleys, (Kenseth's) always at the top of the organization,” Hamlin said. “So he knows how to gets the most out of what he's got. So I'm willing to relinquish whatever role I have to make sure we have the best race cars on the track. If it's him directing our guys to that, then that's good with me.”
Kenseth began visiting the Gibbs shop in December, to get fitted for seats, decide on a spotter, and confer with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff. He made his first laps in the No. 20 car in testing later that month, and was nervous enough that he over-revved the engine. He’s aware of the talk about what a driver with his reputation could bring to a team that’s historically misfired in the Chase. But he’d like to settle into his new program first.
“People have asked me all these questions about experience and leadership, and I’ll be honest with you -- I feel the opposite,” said Kenseth, 40. “I feel like the new kid. I feel like I’m going to go in there with my eyes and ears open.”
Kenseth’s seventh-place Chase standing belied a strong 2012 campaign where he was among the top drivers in the regular season and won twice in the playoff. He left Roush on a high note and on good terms, even delivering bottles of champagne to his former mates as a Christmas present. Now comes the test of maintaining that level of performance and integrating with a new team at the same time.
“It will be a different challenge,” he said. “… I’m really curious, I’m really interested, I’m really looking forward to seeing what it brings.”
See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:
11. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
9. Tony Stewart
7. Matt Kenseth
6. Denny Hamlin
5. Greg Biffle
4. Kasey Kahne
2. Clint Bowyer