NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
The Gibbs triumvirate – Busch ( 18), Hamlin ( 11) and Kenseth ( 20) – lead recently departed JGR driver Logano ( 22) in Daytona practice.
KENSE TH ALWAYS
PLAYS IT CANNY
There are some
nuggets from Matt
Sprint Cup career.
In 2002, he
scored five wins but
was only eighth in
the final points;
in ’03 he became
with just one win,
that “stealth” title?
up the Chase to
spice things up.
Despite his first
full season coming
five years before that
of new teammate
Kyle Busch, each
has 24 Cup wins.
Two of Kenseth’s
wins have come in
the Daytona 500,
in ’09 and ’ 12
JGR’s sole “500”
win came in 1993,
with Dale Jarrett.
“You looked at Joey [Logano ]as
a student, whereas you look
at Matt more as a teacher”
Unlike the mercurial Kyle Busch and
the occasionally flighty Hamlin, Kenseth
is a rock-solid personality. Some regard
the Wisconsin native as being dry,
maybe even boring, which is a mistake.
A Daytona Beach newspaper columnist
famously said that, after winning his first
Daytona 500, Kenseth was going “to
paint the town plaid.” In reality, though,
Kenseth is wickedly, if subtly, funny, with
the ability to make his teammates
instantly at ease. More important, he
carries a level of garage cred which only a
championship can bring. Hamlin and
Busch have spent the last four years
trying to educate Logano. Now, they are
learning from Kenseth.
Racing or even the reigning champs at
Penske Racing, JGR made a huge
free-agent acquisition for 2013, signing
the biggest prize of NASCAR Silly Season,
Matt Kenseth. Coach Gibbs had decided
the team needed to upgrade in a big way.
Kenseth, who had driven fulltime in
the Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing
since 2000, was thought to be a lifer at
the Ford team, and for JGR to scoop him
up was a huge coup. In 2003, Kenseth
gave Jack Roush the first of only two
career Sprint Cup titles (the other came
in ’04 with Kurt Busch) and since ’06,
Kenseth has earned more points than any
RFR driver. In the 12 years the Chase has
been in existence, Kenseth has failed to
make NASCAR’s playoff round just once,
a record only Jimmie Johnson can top.
Larry McReynolds, NASCAR analyst on
the SPEED and FOX networks, observes:
“Every team needs a leader among its
drivers and I think Joe Gibbs Racing has
been missing that. Despite the fact they’d
been winning races and contending for
championships, they were missing the
driver leadership since Tony Stewart left.
With Matt’s experience and age, he’s the
perfect guy to wrap his arms around
Denny and Kyle if they start to get
sideways, and give them a little advice.”
Kenseth’s former spotter Mike Calinoff,
concurs. “I always said Matt’s the smartest
racer I’ve ever seen,” he opines. “He’s
very cerebral. He’s aware of everything
going on around the track.”
Kyle Busch and Denny
Hamlin have scored
42 Sprint Cup Series
wins for Coach Gibbs
over the past seven
years, but the best
for each came in
2010, when Hamlin
was second and
Busch eighth. Kyle’s
best result was fifth
for Hendrick in ’07.
TIME TO STEP UP
84 SPRING 2013