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« NASCAR 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup Contender: Tony Stewart | Main | Composite List of All 12 Chase for the Sprint Cup Contenders »

NASCAR 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup Champion: Matt Kenseth

By admin | January 30, 2013

 Matt Kenseth flanked by team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Justin Ratliff

By Richard Allen

Throughout the month of January, I will be running a series on the 12 drivers I am predicting to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the 2013 NASCAR season. The first eleven articles will be placed in no particular order but the final piece written in the series will be on the driver I am selecting as the favorite to win this year’s championship. Half of these pieces will be placed on my own RacingWithRich.com site and half will be placed on BleacherReport.com. Please consider following along on both websites and adding your own thoughts in the “comments” sections below each piece

Do you ever just have a feeling about something? Well, when I began putting these Chase for the Sprint Cup pieces together and trying to decide on who I would predict as the 2013 NASCAR champion, I just kept coming back to the name Matt Kenseth. So, if for no other reason, that is the driver I am selecting as the one who will be holding the big trophy at the end of the coming season.

As has been well documented, Kenseth left the only team he has ever driven for in the Sprint Cup ranks on a full time basis at the end of last season. Midway through 2012, this former champion let it be known that he would depart from the Fords prepared by Roush Fenway Racing to take a seat in one of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas.

The 40-year-old Wisconsin native simply felt as though it was time for a change.

“It’s a big honor to come to Joe Gibbs Racing,” Kenseth said when the announcement was made last year. “It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been extremely blessed all my career, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my career. It’s a championship team and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Kenseth will take over a car that has championship history behind it. Tony Stewart won the Sprint Cup title in both 2002 and 2005 in the #20 ride for JGR. That car, however, has struggled to find its competitive edge while being driven by Joey Logano since 2009. In that time, the car has won only twice and has not made the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff a single time.

Kenseth himself has championship experience. While driving Jack Roush’s #17 in 2003 he won what was then called the Winston Cup championship. He also finished 2nd in the series standings back in 2006. During his time with RFR he won a total of 24 races at the Cup level, including two Daytona 500s.

Crew chief Justin Ratliff will lead Kenseth’s effort from atop the JGR pit box. He believes the team’s new driver will make them a contender for the title. “Do we feel like we’ve got an opportunity to win championships? I think so,” he said. “I think Matt has proven that he’s competitive enough and experienced enough in this sport to do that regardless of what team he’s with. I’d be lying if that wasn’t our target.”

A team that’s hungry to contend combined with a driver who will be reinvigorated by a change in scenery will provide the recipe for success this season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Matt Kenseth’s #20 car in its Dollar General paint scheme

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