Kenseth’s Cup filled with 2013 optimism
As a racer, former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth stops just short of saying he generally is someone who sees the glass half full.
Not this season. Kenseth is as optimistic as a farmer after plentiful rainfall during growing season.
The reason for Kenseth’s enthusiasm? A change of scenery to a team tucked away at the back of a wooded business park not far off I-77 in Huntersville.
In the biggest driver change after the 2012 season, Kenseth left the only team that he had ever driven for in the Cup Series, Roush-Fenway Racing, and ended up taking Joey Logano’s job as driver of the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing.
It was a move that was a shock because Kenseth had been a stalwart at Roush, winning 24 races and one championship over 15 seasons, 13 of them full-time.
“To predict what we’re going to do in the 20 is really difficult,” Kenseth said, “But I’m extremely optimistic for me. I hate to say I’m a glass half empty guy but I’m a realist, some people would say a pessimist. I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. Expectations are higher than they’ve ever been. Everyone is excited and can’t wait to get to the track and see where we stack, see what we’re doing good and see what we’re doing bad. I’m curious to see because there is no way to predict that.”
Kenseth began studying his options and met in late May with team owner Gibbs and Gibbs’s son, J.D., who oversees the operation that also fields Cup cars for Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. The lineup is among the most potent for any team in the series.
“Right now, I can’t be in a better place personally or professionally,” Kenseth said.
During the NASCAR Media Tour stop at JGR on Thursday, Kenseth said that after his meeting with the Gibbs that he knew that he needed to change. He also had a hard time explaining why he felt that way and that he explored leaving Roush just one other time.
“I didn’t see anything I didn’t like,” Kenseth said. “They had me over to the shop and I drove away knowing that it was the right place for me, the right team for me, the right organization for me, the right timing for me. I just knew 100 per cent for sure. I knew it was right thing to do and the right time to do it.
“Throughout my life when I’ve had a decision that big, I don’t want to say I’ve ever been wrong but I’ve haven’t regretted it. If I had that much conviction that I thought it was something I needed to do, I’ve done it. And I just knew I needed to do this. Unless it’s happened to you, it’s a little difficult to explain. None of the rest of it mattered. I just knew, I needed to make it happen.”
Once the decision was made, Kenseth didn’t waste much time letting Roush-Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush know. He also said that members of his team didn’t throw in the towel as they managed to score two victories late in the season.
“As far as performance and hard how they worked to try to win another championship, none of that changed for me,” Kenseth said, “There were some awkward moments with management. As far as the stuff that mattered, there were no awkward moments. It wasn’t a struggle.”
In hiring Kenseth, Gibbs adds a driver who has credentials similar to Busch (24 wins in nine seasons) and Hamlin (22 wins in eight seasons).
“He knows what these cars take,” Joe Gibbs said of Kenseth. “He’s very smart. He’s very analytical. Our other drivers, respect him. These guys respect each other. And they’ll listen. Denny will listen to Kyle and Kyle listens to Denny, Both of them will listen to Matt. That makes for us, three guys sharing information and three drivers who respect each other. It’s big deal.”
With the addition of the 41-year-old Kenseth, the 31-year-old Hamlin is no longer the senior statesman on the team and the 27-year-old Busch is now the youngest. Busch and Hamlin have been known to be outspoken at times.
Kenseth said he really doesn’t known Hamlin or Busch and is anxious to see how they fit together.
“The mix of the three of us intrigued me,” Kenseth said. “Or personalities are very different. Our approaches will be different as well, which is good because the more different approaches, the more you have to think about, and that will make you stronger.”
Hamlin, who became a father for the first time early last week, was also unsure of Kenseth’s impact.
“It’s tough me for to say,” Hamlin said. “I haven’t worked with him. He brings in a great resume and a lot respect. I’m sure I’ll lean on him when I’m struggling on a race weekend and he’s running well. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to that.”
Although he is the oldest, Kenseth is unsure if he will automatically become the team leader.
“I don’t know about the leadership role thing,” Kenseth said. “I’ll get back to you in a couple of months. I just feel honored to be part of this organization.”