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Matt Kenseth already feels at home at Joe Gibbs Racing

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013

Matt Kenseth had a feeling his move to Joe Gibbs Racing was the right one. But Kenseth’s nature is to be cautious and wary of anything with which he’s not completely comfortable.

That’s why, just eight races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Kenseth is so happy with how things are working out for him and his new team at JGR.

“Did I expect that?” Kenseth asked of his quick start, which includes two victories, including last week at Kansas. “I kind of did. I hate to say this, (but) I’m a glass-half-empty guy. Instead of talking about it, I like to do it and then talk about it. I don’t like to make predictions. I’m just not that kind of guy.”

Kenseth did hit a pretty big bump in the road earlier this week when the engine in his race-winning Kansas car failed a routine post-race inspection at NASCAR’s research and development center in Concord.

Kenseth was docked 50 points – which drops him to 14th in the series standings – and his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, was fined $200,000 and suspended six races. JGR is appealing the penalty.

Kenseth’s decision to move from Roush Fenway Racing – where he had spent his entire 14-year career – to JGR raised eyebrows when it was announced last fall. He was leaving the security of a familiar team where he had experienced plenty of success and was still doing so, winning two races late in the 2012 season.

He never divulged any specifics for why he left Roush Fenway – and still hasn’t – and said after his victory last Sunday at Kansas that he only consulted his wife Katie about the move.

“I didn’t really tell anybody else about it,” Kenseth said. “The reasons were countless. I just knew it was the right group for me at the right time. I just knew it was where I needed to be and where I had the best chance to be the most successful.

“It wasn’t really a hard decision, believe it or not.”

Kenseth replaced Joey Logano in JGR’s No. 20 Toyota. He went from one iconic NASCAR team owner in Jack Roush to another in Joe Gibbs. He picked up a new crew chief in Ratcliff and two new teammates in Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Kenseth, 41, with his 14 years of Cup experience and a championship in 2003, is the elder statesman of the Gibbs team, and no doubt brings a calming influence to team meetings that include the sometimes volatile Busch and Hamlin.

“With Denny and Kyle, what they both like about Matt is they’ve kind of given him the leadership role,” JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. “Matt is happy to take it on. For us, it’s a great connection. They listen to him, so it’s valuable when we have those meetings and everyone kind of picks up on (Kenseth) and listens to (him).”

As the Cup series moves to Richmond, Va., for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400, Kenseth will continue to be mindful of his role on his new team.

“There’s a ton of things that intrigue me about all this, but having Denny and Kyle as teammates is one thing that also really intrigued me,” Kenseth said. “Denny and Kyle are very different from each other and they’re both very different from me. I think we all have different personalities, we all have a different approach to things, we all have a different way we handle things. It’s all different. And I think that’s good.

“If you have all your teammates think the same thing and you all want the same thing, I don’t think you get everybody’s potential, I don’t think you get everything out there. There are no different viewpoints to consider or a different setup or idea or a different approach to driving the racetrack.

“It’s really helped me become a better driver, really elevates your game when you have guys like that that can go out and win any week.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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