Making the Grade: A Preview of the Probable 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Top 12 (Part 4 of 12)
For any Matt Kenseth fan who's got a tattoo of the No. 17 car or the number or sponsors associated with the 2003 champ from his Roush-Fenway Racing years, hopefully, you've found a good studio that will allow for the red Husky and yellow Dollar General No. 20 colors to adorn your skin.
It's quite the change for the pride of Cambridge, WI, who like projected 12th place finisher Joey Logano, will be racing with a new organization after a relatively long tenure with the same team.
Kenseth had been a part of Roush's famous stable since 1999, when he raced a quintet of events before embarking on his full-time rookie campaign in 2000. Recording 24 wins and cashing in nearly $90 million with the No. 17 team, Kenseth will be taking his quiet but consistent winning style to Joe Gibbs' No. 20 team.
Sure, Kenseth isn't one to make memorable sound bites with the press (although his tweets are quite legendary), but he lets his racing do the talking for him. Despite being in an awkward situation with Roush-Fenway for a good part of the 2012 season, he put in about the best five months notice that anyone could give their employer with two wins in the Chase.
Also, prior to his announced departure from the Roush-Fenway organization, he took home his second (but first, racing to the stripe) Daytona 500 victory.
Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig slumped during the summer after staying within the points lead for a good chunk of 2012, with a 35th crash-DNF at Indianapolis somewhat starting the downward trend for MK. Prior to the crash, their consistency was so stellar, it looked as if Kenseth would hoist his second trophy (and perhaps give Roush a fitting farewell in the process).
Inconsistency plagued the No. 17 for the rest of the year, but all things considered, they made the best of a strange, difficult season and Kenseth now finds himself in a new situation while Roush-Fenway has two-time Nationwide champ Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. taking the regins of the No. 17 Ford.
There's a lot to look forward to with Kenseth and his new crew chief Jason Ratcliff, as they're a pair of young innovative racing personalities who let their work do the talking. Ratcliff spent seasons working for Nationwide racing teams, serving as Casey Atwood's crew chief in 1999 and 2000 and serving with the Gibbs' "AAA" efforts until being promoted to the No. 20's headwrench last year.
To say the least, it will probably take some races for this racing pair to work out the communication and chemistry kinks, but much like their sponsors in Husky and The Home Depot, they'll be fine getting things done the right way.
Like Logano late last year, Kenseth got some seat time with his new ride and got acquainted with his new crew during the December test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
This coming week's Daytona test session as well as the second and final winter testing at Charlotte will be crucial in terms of building strong chemistry between Kenseth and Ratcliff, who are plenty capable of writing their new success stories with a good strong start and successful, top-10 in points kind of year.
That's exactly where Kenseth and the Husky/Dollar General brigade will place, projected to place ninth in a year where there'll just be eight other teams that will be consistently better than them. Considering how the No. 20 team hasn't really been a consistent frontrunner since 2008, finishing ninth would be a great new start to a hopefully long, prosperous relationship with Kenseth and the Joe Gibbs Racing group.