Summer Bedgood · Monday May 13, 2013
Change, they say, is inevitable. Life moves faster than the speed of light at times, and sometimes you can’t anticipate your next move.
Racing is no different, especially in the fast-paced world of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. For drivers at the highest level of the sport, their next move (or lack thereof) can make or break their career. It can be the difference between one race and one championship. It means reigniting your career or fading quietly away into the sunset.
For Matt Kenseth, he felt like change was necessary. His success at Roush Fenway Racing since 2000 had seen him win one championship and 24 races.
But when opportunity knocks, the door opens, and the opportunity was Joe Gibbs Racing. Even winning three races in his final season with RFR, Kenseth has said he knew what the right decision was. After winning his second race of the season at Kansas a few weeks ago, he said that the move to JGR was certainly not a difficult one.
Saturday night at Darlington was Kenseth’s third win in 11 races in 2013, and 11 races with the No. 20 JGR team after his predecessor, Joey Logano, went to Penske Racing. By all accounts, this has been a successful start to the JGR / Kenseth relationship. Even NASCAR couldn’t stop them, after an incredibly harsh penalty stemming from their win at Kansas was drastically reduced by an appeals penalty. The No. 20 team, it appears, just can’t lose.
The team has three wins, three top 5s, seven top 10s, and sits third in points. It’s almost scary how well this team is doing and the competition should be worried. Who knows how long this team can continue on this path? If they do, the recent championships of Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski may be long forgotten.
It’s almost unbelievable how well this team has clicked. Kenseth, who is not as young as he used to be nor is he an unseasoned rookie, is shooting out of a cannon in a way that you don’t normally expect of drivers who have already reached their peak.
It begs the question … what could have been? What if this combination of JGR power and Kenseth’s “closer” capabilities had happened much sooner than 2013?
JD Gibbs addressed this quick success after their win on Saturday night:
“You know, I knew Matt pretty well before,” said Gibbs. “When he came on the team, he’s a good leader. I think Denny and Kyle really like having him there, hearing what he has to say. On the racetrack, he just has a gift. So I think it’s really been a blessing for Joe Gibbs Racing to have him join our team. We look forward to a great future.”
A great future, yes, but the past is another story.
Let’s consider the possibilities. Kenseth currently has one championship in over 13 years of racing in the Sprint Cup Series. His championship, back in 2003, was great, sure, but only involved one win all season. The championship was won on consistency alone, and was a rather boring story to watch play out. In fact, it was Kenseth’s rather lackluster season that is credited (or blamed, depending on which side you’re on) for the creation of the Chase.
In 11 races in that season, Kenseth only had one win and seven top 5s. Certainly not a bad start, but it wasn’t this explosive start we’ve seen from him this year. If Kenseth had been with JGR at that time, could he have done more? Could he have been much more successful and noticeable at this point in career?
I think it is a distinct possibility. After all, JGR has been getting better and better for years. In my opinion, within about five years, they will be the top team in the sport, above even Hendrick Motorsports. In the past, they’ve had their share of success, oftentimes even rivaling that of Roush Fenway Racing. Even though team members, cars, and a variety of other things have changed since Kenseth’s foray into the sport, a look back in time shows Kenseth may have been able to be successful beyond what he was.
Could, then, this be a new beginning for Kenseth? Is there another championship in him? Again, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes”. He’s already racing like a fresh, young driver, ready to make his mark on the sport. He has the excitement and the energy of a rookie, yet the patience and finesse of a veteran. Add to that the youthful outlook of JGR coupled with the experience of several championship winning crew members and this sounds like a dangerous combination for the rest of the field.
Honestly, though, I have noticed how happy Kenseth is. That’s not to say he hated RFR, but he seems to have a renewed focus and a happiness that he didn’t have before. I’ll be very surprised if Kenseth isn’t in contention when the season rolls around to Homestead.
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