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Saturday, February 23, 2013

“My Driver” Kenseth joins the ‘dark side’ at Joe Gibbs Racing
Matt’s driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs this season. The driver of the old "17" car now will be in the "20" and his teammates will be Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. I’d really rather see him in an American make, but he’s my favorite driver and I’ll still root for him! A die-hard Packer fan from Wisconsin that made it to "big time NASCAR". Story thanks to Nate and you can link to it below:

by Nate Ryan on Feb. 10, 2013, under USA TODAY News
The first public dispatch from the cockpit of the No. 20 by its new driver was quintessential Matt Kenseth.
Climbing into his Joe Gibbs Racing ride for the first time in a December test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kenseth devilishly tweeted a photo of a Darth Vader mask Velcroed to his rearview mirror and added a “#darkside.”
The post — a reference to pro-Detroit Jack Roush’s Star Wars allusion in describing Kenseth’s defection to Toyota — was the type of dry humor that has made the 2003 champion a popular figure among peers and fans who have come to expect daily doses of sarcasm and snark on his Twitter feed.
But this wasn’t the driver’s idea. The culprits were some of JGR’s merry pranksters, who also taped a primitive map of a manual transmission to the dashboard after Kenseth missed a shift that caused an engine change.
Despite the embarrassment, Kenseth tweeted a photo of that, too. The ribbing is one of many signs explaining why the Cambridge, Wis., native has settled quickly into his fresh digs after becoming virtually synonymous with Roush Fenway Racing in a 15-year run.
“I’ve never been in this position, but the first time you walk in a team’s shop that has a driver who’s leaving and you’re coming in to drive that guy’s car, there’s always that anxiety,” Kenseth said. “‘Oh man, that guy, they really loved him. I hope they accept me and like me.’ You want to fit in and be one of the guys. … I feel like the rookie. I’ve got my ears and eyes wide open, although it doesn’t take me long to voice my opinions.”
That assertiveness is highly anticipated by JGR. Though his understated persona often is overshadowed — after winning the Daytona 500 last year, he joked the first three questions of every interview were about the jet dryer explosion, Danica Patrick’s debut and Brad Keselowski’s in-race tweet — Kenseth, 40, is well respected within the garage for knowing what he wants in a car and being proactive about getting it.

“There’s not a driver that would have ranked higher on our, ‘Let’s go get that guy’ list than Matt Kenseth,” said Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development. “The feedback you get from engineers and mechanics on Matt Kenseth is this is one of the brightest and best guys in the garage to tell you what your car is doing and how to make it better.”
The reception from his new teammates has been extremely warm. Denny Hamlin attended the Charlotte test solely because of Kenseth and tweeted, “Mr @mattkenseth is a damn wheel man. Wow” (“I paid him off for that,” Kenseth jokes) after Kenseth jumped in Hamlin’s No. 11 and immediately matched his lap speed. Kyle Busch, who has moonlighted in Late Model racing against Kenseth’s son, Ross, also likes the replacement for Joey Logano, who moved to Penske Racing.
“Matt’s a huge addition to the team,” said Busch, who recently signed a long-term extension that will keep the trio together for at least the next three seasons. “That was one of the reasons that JGR looked at him, just having that leadership value. He’s the new guy, but he’s the old guy on the totem pole in experience.”
Kenseth, though, planned a rigorous freshman orientation at his new job, spending time in departments of JGR — such as the chassis shop — he hadn’t stepped in for years at Roush. “You feel like you’re getting your first shot,” he said. “Not like you’re starting your career over, but it’s really exciting because it’s different. … Every year something changes, whether it’s a car model or a rule or a couple of crew guys. But I’ve certainly never been through anything like this. It’s a completely different crew, crew chief, organization, car manufacturing, car body style and teammates.”
To help get acclimated, he has communicated daily and lunched a few times weekly with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff. During a test at Daytona International Speedway, he treated crewmembers to dinner at a nearby brewpub.
“From the first time he stepped into the shop, it’s been a lot of fun,” Ratcliff said. “He’s got a neat sense of humor.The guys have really taken to him. He brings more of a laid-back, very confident-type feel that creates a good environment.”
One of the most telling moments of Kenseth’s presence came after a drafting practice during the Daytona test. As Kenseth and Ratcliff debriefed in their garage stall, a crowd that included Busch, Hamlin and several engineers gravitated to them. “Sometimes you just need somebody to steer the ship or it gets off course,” Ratcliff said. “Matt is the kind of guy, even though he’s quiet and doesn’t seem an extrovert, he is good at evaluating where we’re at as a team and a company and helping guide that ship.”
Kenseth, who has 24 Cup wins and has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in eight of nine seasons, would prefer any comparisons to a captain, though. “I’m not a guy to organize meetings or necessarily be a leader,” he said. “I think I try to lead by example.”
Follow Nate Ryan on Twitter @nateryan

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