By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Matt Kenseth’s offseason race shop move from Concord to Huntersville, N.C., continues to pay dividends, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star emerged as first quarter 2013 winner of the Driver of the Year award.
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, crushed the opposition in voting among a nationwide panel of 18 print/website journalists and broadcasters, scoring twice the points of his nearest rival in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
During the quarter that ended on May 12th, Kenseth scored wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway before notching his first career win in the Southern 500 at historic Darlington Raceway. Kenseth also posted two poles and led 781 laps.
The quarter was not without controversy, however, as Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and owner Gibbs were penalized by NASCAR after the win at Kansas Speedway, when post-race inspection of the engine in the No. 20 Dollar General/Husky Toyota Camry revealed a piston rod out of specification (too light). Originally docked 50 championship points, that penalty subsequently was reduced to 12 points by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel. All other components of Kenseth’s original penalty also were rescinded.
The Wisconsin native was taken aback when informed of his selection by the DOTY panel. “It’s always an honor whenever you’re selected for any kind of award from the media or the fans,” said Kenseth, who finished seventh in the final 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. “I never even thought of receiving this award, so it’s pretty cool to have been selected for this.
“There’s really not a lot that I can take credit for though, because it’s truly a testament to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and how fast the cars are that they’ve given us to start the season off with. I feel like all three of our JGR teams have been fast and competitive at every track this year and capable of winning each week. We have a really great group and I think that we learn a lot and work together in order to be successful.”
Kenseth, 41, moved to JGR after a stellar 14-year career at Roush Fenway Racing, where he was the de facto franchise driver for team-owner Jack Roush. Kenseth won 24 Cup races in Roush Fenway Fords, including Daytona 500 titles in 2009 and 2012.
“Usually it takes a little while for a team to jell, but Kenseth and the entire JGR team behind him have hit the ground running – and running for another Sprint Cup championship,” said Barry Schmoyer, president of the DOTY Foundation.
Kenseth earned 10 first-place votes and totaled 110 points under the DOTY point system. IZOD IndyCar Series regular James Hinchcliffe, a two-time winner in the No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport, received one first-place vote and 55 points.
Kyle Busch, one of Kenseth’s JGR teammates, finished third with two first-place votes and 50 points following strong performances in NASCAR’s Cup and Nationwide series. Takuma Sato, first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar Series race, was recognized with one first-place vote following his victory on the Streets of Long Beach for A.J. Foyt Racing.
Fifteen drivers scored points during the quarter, with four panelists failing to vote. In quarterly voting, points are awarded on a declining 9, 6, 4,3,2,1 basis.
Originally known as the Martini & Rossi and in its 47th season, Driver of the Year is the oldest award of its kind for motorsports in North America. In addition to the quarterly votes, the Driver of the Year is determined via secret ballot at season’s end. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion for Penske Racing, added his name to the list of award-winners last year.
Kenseth will receive a trophy and Tissot wristwatch at a race weekend to be determined.
Further information on the award may be obtained from the Driver of the Year Foundation, P.O. Box 49827, Sarasota, Fla., 34230; by calling Schmoyer at (941) 379-2318 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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