A double debut made Matt Kenseth as nervous as he could recall inside a race car Tuesday.
Just ask his No. 20 team, which had to change motors during the lunch break of a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway after Kenseth accidentally over revved his Toyota by shifting into first instead of third gear.
“I think the guys are in love with me right now,” the 2003 champion said with a chuckle. “Like, ‘Where did we find this clown? Give us the other one back.’ ”
Making his first laps with Joe Gibbs Racing and his first behind the wheel of NASCAR’s new Gen 6 car, Kenseth wasn’t alone in getting acclimated during a test at the 1.5-mile oval that was as much about adapting to unfamiliar surroundings as an updated set of wheels.
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Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing were adjusting to their first new manufacturer in a decade while also indoctrinating new teammate Joey Logano, whose former seat at Gibbs now belongs to Kenseth.
“The best way I can break in Joey is to get him one of those championship glasses and take him out for night,” Keselowski said, playfully referencing the enormous beer stein he took swigs from while celebrating his title last month in an ESPN SportsCenter interview that’s gone viral. “I think he’d really enjoy that and I’d really enjoy it.
“I feel like there are a lot of areas that I can improve and be better and I think there are things Joey does right out of the gate that are better than what I do. I think he has the ability to unload at a place like this and just instantly be fast and that’s not my style. It’s something that I would like to add to my arsenal. I think that Joey is an elite talent in this sport, and if we can work together that we will both be better.”
Keselowski, who arrived Tuesday in a new firesuit, also has an overhauled look since outdueling Jimmie Johnson to claim the first Cup championship for team owner Roger Penske. His No. 2 was sporting a new paint scheme and logo as the blue oval of Ford supplanted Dodge, which departed NASCAR after its first championship in 37 years.
Though there were no Fusions from Ford stalwart Roush Fenway Racing at Tuesday’s test (Wood Brothers Racing was the other Ford team), Keselowski was optimistic that Penske’s off-track collaboration with Roush would be mutually beneficial.
“It’s hard to get a great read on the whole manufacturer change, 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,” he said. “We still have to work for it and make it happen, but the signs are there.
“One of the best advantages of switching to Ford is it gives us something to prove all over again, that we can continue to be successful no matter what the manufacturer or the circumstance is, and I think that’s very healthy.”