KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The announcement was stunning, but it was just the beginning.
When Matt Kenseth decided in June 2012 that he would leave Roush Fenway Racing after that season, it marked the beginning of a tidal wave that shifted the power in the sport.
A confluence of expiring driver contracts, a search for sponsorship dollars and the chance for new beginnings led to a driver movement from 2012-14 that saw two former champions move – and a third driver become a champion after changing rides. Seven of the remaining 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup changed rides during that time, including five of the top six in points heading into today’s race at Kansas Speedway.
The group’s success is not surprising to Carl Edwards, who left Roush Fenway Racing after last season for Joe Gibbs Racing and has won two races this year.
“I can tell you one thing, when you make a change like the change I made, it’s such a big change and everything is so new, it made me really question everything and in some ways it probably spurred me to be a little more self-critical and try harder just to prove myself to a new group of people,’’ Edwards said.
Drivers who have switched teams since 2013 have combined to win 17 of 30 races this season.
Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has won 12 races, and the organization has scored the most victories in a season twice. Kenseth didn’t win that many races in his final six seasons combined at Roush Fenway Racing.
“If you didn’t think you could do better and be in a better situation and more competitive, successful, happier – all those things — you probably wouldn’t do it,’’ Kenseth said of changing teams.
Kenseth’s move forced Joey Logano out of a ride at JGR when the team could not find sponsorship to expand to four cars. Logano, nearly buried by expectations of unfulfilled greatness, didn’t know where he would go.
“You start thinking in your mind, ‘What’s the backup on this whole thing? What else are you going to do?’ ’’ he said. “I didn’t have a backup. I put all my eggs in one basket to be a race car driver, so this had to work.’’
Car owner Roger Penske had no doubts where Logano would go. Penske had been impressed by Logano’s success in the Xfinity Series even if Logano’s Cup career had not matched that. With Brad Keselowski also advocating for Logano, Penske had his guy.
Logano landed with Team Penske for the 2013 season. He’s won nine races since the move, including last weekend’s race at Charlotte to advance to the third round of the Chase.
“As I’ve gotten older and learned more about life, challenges are opportunities to do something great, and you should look forward to challenges in your life,’’ Logano said. “Sometimes they may not go the way you want them to, but that’s why it’s a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called that.’’
The moves have worked remarkably well for both Kenseth and Logano. Kenseth got a chance to be a title contender again, and Logano regained his lost confidence and blossomed into one of the sport’s emerging stars.
Moves also have worked for others. Kevin Harvick announced in Nov. 2012 that he would join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and won the championship in his first season there. Harvick again is a title contender this season with three victories and 12 runner-up finishes.
Harvick’s arrival, though, forced Ryan Newman out at Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman moved to Richard Childress Racing in what became a driver-for-driver swap. While Harvick has had the greater success, Newman has made the Chase both years and finished second to Harvick last year in the title race.
The 2013 season also featured the surprise news that Stewart-Haas Racing would expand to four cars by adding Kurt Busch in 2014 with backing from co-owner Gene Haas’ company. Busch has made the Chase in each of his two years there.
Busch’s departure from Furniture Row Racing provided a place for Martin Truex Jr. to land. Truex was out of a ride after sponsor NAPA vacated its contract days after NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for seeking to manipulate the finish of the fall Richmond race in 2013.
“A lot of this sport is about timing,’’ Truex said.
That timing proved right for him and many others who have switched teams in recent years.
DRIVER RECORDS SINCE THEIR MOVES
Matt Kenseth … 12 wins, 37 top fives, 61 top 10s in 102 starts
Joey Logano … 10 wins, 45 top fives, 65 top 10s in 102 starts
Kevin Harvick … 8 wins, 34 top fives, 44 top 10s in 66 starts
Kurt Busch … 3 wins, 16 top fives, 27 top 10s in 66 starts
Martin Truex Jr. … 1 win, 9 top fives, 24 top 10s in 66 starts
Ryan Newman … 0 wins, 10 top fives, 30 top 10s in 66 starts
Carl Edwards … 2 wins, 5 top fives, 12 top 10s in 30 starts