Matt Kenseth or Joey Logano: Which Driver Benefits Most from Ride Change?
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Well, folks, it's official.
The 2003 Sprint Cup champ will hop into the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota beginning next February for the Daytona 500.
With that, the No. 20 car's current occupant, Joey Logano, moves to a new home of his own for the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
The 22-year-old Middletown, Conn. driver will end his career-long residence at JGR for an opportunity to drive the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford for Penske Racing next season.
So now the question stands: Which driver will benefit more from a change of scenery in 2013?
We'll start with Kenseth. The 2012 Daytona 500 winner has had a solid career driving Roush Fenway Racing's No. 17 car, and this season has been no different.
On the year, Kenseth owns that prestigious Daytona 500 victory along with nine top fives and 15 top 10s, as well as an average finish of 10.5 while holding down third in the Sprint Cup standings.
Kenseth also has quite a few career highlights over his 13 full-time Sprint Cup seasons with Roush. A Rookie of the Year title in 2000, the Sprint Cup championship in 2003 and a pair of Daytona 500 victories are among his 22 career wins.
But despite the fact that Kenseth has made the Sprint Cup Chase almost every year since its inception in 2004 (he missed the Chase in 2009), Kenseth has long been considered an afterthought in the title race.
Since 2006, Kenseth has not placed higher than fourth in the standings under a Chase system that does not play to his strength, which is consistency.
That's not a dig at Kenseth. In fact, Kenseth has been among the five best drivers in the final standings in each of the past two seasons.
But racing under the Roush-Fenway banner in the shadow of Carl Edwards, Kenseth has not been given the equipment to go out and win the races necessary to earn a Sprint Cup championship under the current system.
Going to JGR will change that.
Since 2008, Joe Gibbs Racing has won at least five races every single year, a feat RFR has not accomplished since 2008.
In 2012, JGR has six wins among three drivers. RFR has just three.
That Kenseth is going to a team that has proven to be unbeatable at its best makes him an instant threat to win the Sprint Cup championship in 2013. Not to mention it will be nice for the driver to have secure sponsorship behind him for the first time in over a year.
As for Logano, many have argued that the talented young driver may have been moved up into the Sprint Cup ranks too fast. That may be the case, or perhaps he simply never had the right chemistry at JGR.
Logano moved into the Sprint Cup Series at 18 years of age in 2009 and stepped right into the shoes of then-two-time Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart. He was immediately paired with veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, but during their three-year partnership the duo never clicked.
In 2012, Logano was paired with long-time Nationwide crew chief Jason Ratcliffe. During their brief time together, Logano has had the best season of his career, posting eight top 10 finishes including a dominating victory at Pocono back in June.
Though he has been inconsistent in 2012, Logano has managed to put himself in contention to make the Chase for the first time and, though he's a long shot to make it, he could do so by notching a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Yet, despite Logano's strides in 2012, the team never seemed fully committed to retaining the fourth-year driver. After unsuccessfully pursuing Carl Edwards a year ago, the team put all of its efforts into locking up Kenseth for 2013.
Unfortunately for Logano, sponsorship has not been kind to him, either. Long-time JGR sponsor Home Depot openly displayed their displeasure with the driver by pining for Carl Edwards in 2011, but to no avail.
Now Logano no longer has to worry about pleasing either of those parties.
The only bad news about Logano's move to Penske Racing is that Ratcliffe will not be following him. It is likely that Logano will be paired with Todd Gordon, who currently crew chiefs the No. 22 at the Sprint Cup level and has shown some promise in NASCAR's second-tier series.
Which driver stands to benefit most from a ride change in 2013?
However, a move to Penske could be just what the doctor ordered for a young driver who's still looking to make his mark on the sport.
Logano will be paired with arguably the most talented driver in the sport, Brad Keselowski. The two have a very good history in racing together and have similar driving styles in that both are young and aggressive, but clean racers.
By signing Logano to a multi-year deal, team owner Roger Penske is making a long-term investment in his team as the duo of Keselowski and Logano should prove to be a formidable franchise, especially if Logano lives up to his full potential.
At just 22 years of age, Logano still has plenty of time to develop if Penske chooses to let him.
As the representative of Shell/Pennzoil, Logano will also have the luxury of being backed by a sponsor that is ready to be loyal to a franchise driver, considering recent troubles with Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger.
So which driver stands to benefit most from a switch?
In all likelihood, Kenseth will be the better driver in 2013. The upgrade in equipment for him should instantly make him a contender to earn more victories and should instantly put him among the favorites to win it all.
In the long run, however, Logano stands to benefit by finding a long-term home with a world-class organization and being paired with one of the finest drivers in the sport.
When silly season kicks up and drivers begin swapping rides, it seems somebody always draws the short straw.
Between these two drivers, however, it appears both come out ahead.
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