Of the many new NASCAR Sprint Cup driver-team pairings for 2013, none is more intriguing than Matt Kenseth moving to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kenseth, who gave Jack Roush his first Sprint Cup championship in 2003, brings a level of consistency and stability to JGR that could dramatically elevate the team’s overall results this season.
In 14 full seasons of Sprint Cup racing, Kenseth has one championship, five top-five and nine top-10 points finishes. Since the Chase for the Sprint Cup format began in 2004, Kenseth has made it into NASCAR’s playoff round all but one season, second only to Jimmie Johnson, who is a perfect nine for nine.
More importantly, perhaps, is Kenseth’s personality. At the ripe old age of 40, Kenseth is steady and sure, not someone who is susceptible to getting in trouble off the track or causing controversy within the team. He also has a tremendous sense of humor and a strong work ethic, two traits that make him easy to get along with. Kenseth’s personality could prove very beneficial to his younger teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both of whom have been more mercurial in their respective careers then Kenseth has been.
Already, Kenseth feels at home with his new team.
“Absolutely, I really do,” Kenseth said when asked if he was comfortable at JGR. “I kind of feel like a kid just starting, to be honest with you. It sounds kind of silly since I've been doing it for so long, but really I feel almost like — I know I have experience — I almost feel like it's my first year in a way. I feel like it really is a new beginning with the best possible stuff — the best cars, sponsors, people — all that stuff. I feel extremely fortunate to get this shot and to start with all this stuff in place.”
His teammates are happy to have Kenseth on board.
“We know what he's done in the past, and I know what he's capable of on the race track because I race with him every week,” Hamlin said of Kenseth. “He's going to be a guy that takes Joe Gibbs Racing to that elite level.”
“Matt's is going to be a great addition, and so far he's been a great addition to the team,” said Busch. “He brings that experience. He's got a great car sense and team sense, and so did Joey (Logano, former JGR driver), but Matt's got a championship. Matt's been here for a lot longer. There's things we can learn from Matt. There's things we could learn from Joey, but you look at Matt as a teacher — you look at Joey as a student. I think you'll always kind of see it that way. Matt being that type of guy over here for Denny and myself, I hope that it helps us.”
For Kenseth, the goal is the same this year as it was in his long tenure at Roush Fenway Racing: Win the big prize.
“The goal after you win a championship is to always win a championship,” Kenseth said. “I was really intrigued by this opportunity when it came up for a whole bunch of reasons. One of them I felt like was — I wasn't starting with a fourth team, I wasn't starting with a crew chief that has never done it, I wasn't starting with someone who has never been over the wall. It is an established team that has won races, has won championships and done that stuff with an established organization with two teammates that win all the time. I felt like I was putting myself in the best position I could to win races and hopefully win a championship.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.