The dichotomy between Joe Gibbs and the drivers he’s hired has always been noteworthy.
Other than the wheel-turner he started in NASCAR with, 2000 Cup champ Bobby Labonte, his choices have always been young (Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin), or petulant (Tony Stewart), or some combination of the two (Kyle Busch).
Over the years I’ve both questioned why Gibbs hires drivers who don’t follow his squeaky-clean mantra, and marveled how he’s been able to work with guys who don’t seem like a good fit.
But I’ve always wondered why Gibbs, the Super Bowl champion coach, for years hasn’t had somebody who was more an extension of himself on the track. That’s what football coaches often look for in a quarterback, yet that experienced, even-keeled leader has been absent.
Until now. And boy, what great timing!
Busch seems to already be simmering a bit over a rough 2013 start, and Hamlin, whether right or wrong, is now glued to the seat of NASCAR’s cross hairs over his Gen-6 car comments. Throw in the seemingly perpetual Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota Racing Development engine-building partnership growing pains, and there’s just a lot of reasons why it’s a good time to have one of the sport’s most solid guys on the roster.
Kenseth is the type who will do a lot more than win races, like Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. He’ll step up his performance exactly when his team and organization needs it. When Roush Fenway Racing experienced sponsorship woes in 2011 and threw together short-term deals for Kenseth with every eye wear and toilet parts company they could get their hands on, he didn’t flinch. He put the eye wear company and the toilet parts company in Victory Lane, even as he wore Crown Royale gear because there wasn’t enough time to get him a uniform to match his car.
It was a pretty rag-tag look for a bona fide NASCAR superstar, and a problem Kenseth won’t have with Gibbs. That team is so awash with sponsorship that Kenseth is also getting 15 rides in the Nationwide Series, something he sorely missed.
The Kenseth/Gibbs partnership looked perfect on paper — the stable, middle-aged driver who would never have his owner worrying about the BS, and the golden-touch-with-sponsors owner who would never have his driver worrying about the bills.
On Sunday, Kenseth’s 41st birthday and only the third race of the new pact, it looked even better on the track.
Follow Josh Stewart on Twitter @JoshNASCARWWE