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Could Kenseth and Vickers repeat together?

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – In 2003, Matt Kenseth won the championship in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series while Brian Vickers won the title that same season in what is now the Nationwide series.

Could 2013 be déjà vu all over again?

If so, the biggest benefactors could be Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.

Both Kenseth and Vickers were offseason additions to JGR, with Kenseth driving the No. 20 Toyota in the Cup series and Vickers driving a full season in the No. 20 Toyota in Nationwide. Vickers is also doing a partial Cup schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Toyota has yet to win a driver’s championship in the Cup series and a second title for Kenseth – his first came with Roush Racing – would do just that, as well as give JGR its fourth championship in NASCAR’s premier series.

Should Vickers earn a second Nationwide title – his first came with Hendrick Motorsports – that, too, would be JGR’s fourth.

“Adding Matt is a big deal,” said team owner Joe Gibbs during the final stop of the four-day NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think he’s somebody that we all respect. I know that Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Busch) and Brian do. It’s a thrill for us to have him on board.

“This is probably the most excited I’ve been going into a season.”

Gibbs isn’t the only one.

Kenseth, driving for just the second organization in his NASCAR career, said he feels “like a kid just starting” his first season.

“I was really intrigued by this opportunity when it came around for a number of reasons,” Kenseth, 40, said. “It was an established team that had won races, won championships. It’s an established organization with teammates that win all the time.

“I just felt I was putting myself in the best position possible to win races and hopefully run for a championship.”

Since JGR made Kenseth’s move official last season, many have suggested Kenseth could be an excellent help to his teammates’ quests for their first Cup championships.

That may well be true but Kenseth has his own goals as well.

“There are a lot of things I want to accomplish yet,” Kenseth said. “I’m probably more optimistic and my expectations are probably higher – probably higher than they’ve ever been.

“That can be dangerous because you’re setting yourself up to be let down.”

Vickers, 28, thinks his 2013 season could almost be like a trip back in time.

“It’s actually going to be like going back 10 years. The only other time in my career that I ran full time in Nationwide was in 2003 and then raced part time in Cup and ran five or six races. It’s going way back,” Vickers said.

“Last year was an amazing year and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I got to race a great car for eight races with Mark (Martin) and Michael (Waltrip) and Toyota. Then I got to travel all through Europe and around the world racing sports cars and I loved it.

“This year, it’s back to NASCAR and back to full time again and I’m looking forward to it.”

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