After spending the last 14 years – and 471 races – with the same race team, it was understandable when Matt Kenseth got a little confused during Wednesday’s test session at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kenseth was there to drive the No. 20 Toyota for the first time at Joe Gibbs Racing, but not before walking past his former team at Roush Fenway Racing.
“I’ve been kind of nervous coming into this morning and walking to a different truck and a different team and all of that stuff,” Kenseth said.
Kenseth was one of 16 drivers shaking down the new 2013 cars for the Sprint Cup Series. NASCAR changed the way the cars look by demanding manufacturers recapture brand identification. For the first time in years, a Ford looks like a Ford; a Toyota looks like a Toyota; and a Chevrolet looks like a Chevrolet.
For Kenseth, it also was a chance to get used to his new team. It didn’t take him long to make an impression by over-revving the engine which required the team to change it.
“My last run I proceeded to go from second gear to first gear and over-revved the engine so they’re back there changing it,” Kenseth said. “So, I think the guys are in love with me right now, like, ‘Where did we find this clown? Give us the other one back.’ Other than that it’s been good.”
The test session also gave newly-crowned champion Brad Keselowski a chance to drive a Ford for the first time. He and new Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano, who left JGR when the team hired Kenseth, have switched from Dodge to Ford this year.
The fact everyone is dealing with new cars makes it easier for Keselowski and Logano to adjust to a new manufacturer.
“It’s hard to get a great read on the whole manufacturer change because, obviously, it’s a different car, but I think all the signs are there that we have the potential to be just as strong, if not stronger, than we were last year, which is very, very encouraging,” Keselowski said.
“We still have to work for it and make it happen, but the signs are there. It’s been a lot of fun having the first day today working with Joey, which I think has been probably more of an adjusting process than the actual car itself, and a good adjusting process. I’m curious to see over time how we can work together and push each other to be the best we can be, so I’ve had a lot of fun with that so far. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Jeff Burton posted the quickest speed in the morning session at 190.833 mph in the Chevrolet SS, a car that’s actually produced in Australia. RCR teammates Kevin Harvick (190.215) and Austin Dillon (190.934) were second and third, respectively.
Keselowski was 11th overall at 187.891.
Speeds weren’t as quick in the afternoon. Regan Smith was fastest at 190.215 mph.
The test concludes today. NASCAR will conduct another session Jan. 10-12 at the Daytona International Speedway, before returning to Charlotte for a final workout on Jan. 17-18. The racing season officially opens on Feb. 16 with the Budweiser Shootout exhibition race and the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.
Kenseth hopes to be more comfortable around his new team by then.
“I just didn’t want to do anything stupid like I did, pretty much,” he said. “I don’t know. I guess I shouldn’t say nervous, just kind of anxious walking … it’s just different, you know. Just go find a different group of guys in a different hauler and a different car and everything is different inside the car.
“I certainly don’t know them as good as I’m going to or want to and all of that. So, yeah, it was different. I’ve got to be honest, it was probably the first time I’ve been nervous in a race car, getting in there and going out for the first time, in as long as I can remember.
“It’s always exciting and you’re a little anxious when you go do something different. It’s been fun so far.”