NASCAR: How Move to JGR Will Impact Matt Kenseth's 2013 Season and Vice Versa

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2013

CONCORD, NC - JANUARY 24:  (L-R) Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin listen as team owner Joe Gibbs speaks to the media during the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour on January 24, 2013 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The days of a veteran driver—those who have logged at least 10 years in the sport—spending his entire Sprint Cup career with one team are rare indeed.

The current list includes Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick.

That short list became even shorter at the end of last season when Matt Kenseth, after 13 years with team co-owner Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing, decided to pull up stakes and join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

What's more, Kenseth goes from an equally long relationship of driving a Ford to piloting a car that is among Roush's most hated rivals, a Toyota.

Both sides have moved on, with Kenseth replacing Joey Logano in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, while rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. replaces Kenseth in the No. 17 Best Buy Ford.

The biggest question is who benefits the most from Kenseth's move to JGR?

In my mind, while Kenseth has greener and potentially more fruitful and successful pastures ahead of him and his new Toyota, the real overall winners of the Kenseth sweepstakes are Joe Gibbs and son J.D. Gibbs.

Kenseth is a former cup champion and a two-time Daytona 500 winner—in fact, he's the defending champ from last year's rain-postponed 500.

Kenseth also has 24 cup wins.

By coming to JGR, Kenseth brings a maturity and stabilizing factor to the driver lineup that hasn't been with the company since Tony Stewart left after 2008 to build Stewart-Haas Racing.

An argument can be made that once Stewart left, JGR was without a veteran driver, winner and champion to provide a leadership role and a subdued manner for his two new teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

But heading into 2013, Kenseth provides just the right combination of leadership, maturity and a silent-yet-effective manner of both expressing himself as well as being a strong but quiet leader, just the kind of prescription Hamlin and Busch need to take their own respective careers to the next level.

If anyone can settle down those two and their occasional rambunctious ways, it most definitely is Kenseth.

Father and son Gibbs had previously flirted with Carl Edwards, Kenseth's former teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, but they couldn't put together enough of a deal to lure him away from RFR.

In a way, everyone wins in this whole deal. Kenseth goes to JGR and out from under Roush's micro-managing style. Edwards becomes the No. 1 driver in the RFR camp by default. And Hamlin and Busch now have a teammate they can implicitly trust.

Kenseth's laid-back attitude will also work better within the confines of the JGR organization than it did at RFR, which has a reputation of being a bit too hyper at times because of pressure and influence that comes directly from the top.

Kenseth is the perfect foil for his two teammates. If they get rambunctious or out of line, they'll ultimately look bad if/when compared to the much more conservative and easygoing Kenseth.

The 2013 season at JGR could be the most dynamic year within the organization in perhaps a decade. Not only is there Kenseth's steadying hand and manner on the rudder of the ship, but Hamlin is a new father, which should change some of his wild ways and make him achieve a newfound level of maturity as he helps raise his child.

And then there's the younger Busch brother. Although several teams may have been interested in bringing him aboard in the future, primarily because of his winning abilities and incredible talent behind the wheel, Busch had a lot to think over about the last couple years.

He got into trouble with NASCAR, was suspended for a race weekend, was given a serious talking to by his primary sponsors, cut back his non-cup-level racing in 2012 and ultimately wound up with just one win overall and across all three pro series in NASCAR.

Let's not forget Busch also miserably missed the Chase this past season and was a competitive factor in maybe 12 to 14 of the season's 36 races.

Add all that up, plus Busch looking insightfully, and he likely came to the conclusion that he was better with JGR than without.

That's why he announced during last month's Sprint Media Tour that he had signed a long-term deal to remain under the Gibbs umbrella for many more years to come.

Add all those elements together and a case could be made that all three JGR drivers may not only have strong seasons individually, but also may result in the strongest collective effort from the organization since the days Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte were teammates.

And particularly since Stewart won his second of two cup titles for JGR, it just seems that there has been a lack of cohesion or collective success ever since.

In 2013, though, I have a strong feeling that same cohesion and collective success will finally come together in an all-in-one package.

In fact, I'm so convinced that the overall JGR lineup will have such great success in 2013 that guys like Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs and Kenseth may get to season's end, collectively hit themselves in the forehead and universally say, "Why the heck didn't we do this sooner?"


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