Matt Kenseth looking forward to first season with Joe Gibbs Racing

Streeter Lecka

For the first time in his career, Matt Kenseth is entering the season with a team other than Roush Fenway Racing. But in a short amount of time, Kenseth has made himself at home with Joe Gibbs Racing.

There was Matt Kenseth, sitting before a throng of media next to his car owner talking about how confident he was about the upcoming season. Really no different than any of the previous editions of the Sprint Media Tour that Kenseth has participated in since 2000.

However, there was a glaring distinction.

For the first time since becoming a Sprint Cup Series regular, Kenseth is preparing to drive for a team other than Roush Fenway Racing. Instead of sitting alongside Jack Roush and the rest of his Roush teammates, there was Kenseth flanking Joe Gibbs and the rest of the drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing.

And this fresh beginning has the former Cup champion looking forward to what's ahead.

"It sounds kind of silly since I've been doing it for so long, but I almost feel like it's my first year in a way," Kenseth said last week. "I feel like it really is a new beginning with the best possible stuff - the best cars, sponsors, people - all that stuff. I feel extremely fortunate to get this shot and to start with all this stuff in place."

Kenseth isn't the only one excited about his arrival, as his presence seems to have fired up the entire JGR operation. Particularly, Denny Hamlin, who is coming off a season where he visited Victory Lane five times and was in contention for the championship until the latter part of the year.

Hamlin feels his new teammate will be the key to bringing the organization its first title in eight years.

"We know what he's done in the past and I know what he's capable of on the race track because I race with him every week," Hamlin said. "He's going to be a guy that takes Joe Gibbs Racing to that elite level."

JGR is counting on Kenseth to revitalize the No. 20 team, which has underperformed in recent years. Since Tony Stewart's departure prior to the 2009 season, the once championship-caliber outfit has failed to make the Chase and has won just two races with Joey Logano behind the wheel.

The team needed a driver who can win races and match the performance level of Hamlin and Busch. Enter Kenseth, 40, who is now the elder statesmen of JGR - both in terms of age and experience - but is certainly not on the backside of their career.

While the No. 20 team languished these past four seasons, Kenseth excelled. In that same timeframe, Kenseth has averaged two wins a year and has qualified for the Chase three out of four seasons.

Consequently, JGR now boasts its strongest driver lineup in five years, with all three drivers claiming realistic title hopes. And anything less than multiple wins and an appearance in the Chase by all involved will be seen as a disappointment.

This all-out quest for the larger prize is just fine with Kenseth. It is, after all, one of the reasons he left his longtime home and signed on with JGR.

"[M]y expectations are probably higher than they've probably ever been, which is dangerous because you're setting yourself up to be let down," Kenseth said. "I'm really excited about everything I've seen over here, from the people to the cars to their approach to the organization to just the whole thing - I've been really impressed by and proud to be a part of it.

"I can't wait to get to the track and see if we can get results."

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