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Matt Kenseth in the Tide PODS Toyota Camry during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series. (Nigel Kinrade/NKP via AP)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Matt Kenseth made his Cup debut when new teammate Daniel Suarez was only 6 years old, and he's two NASCAR title sponsors away from his last championship.
With changes abound in NASCAR, Kenseth still hit Speedweeks with the same enthusiasm he's had since his first full Cup season in 2000.
"I've never started a year where I felt bad," Kenseth said. "There's always some excitement of the unknown."
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) February 16, 2017
Kenseth, who turns 45 in March, can see a new look around Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017. Carl Edwards shocked the sport with his decision to retire and that opened the door to the No. 19 for Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez to slide into the Toyota. Kenseth, Suarez, 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch and 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin continue to make JGR one of the teams to beat, and a contender to wrest the title away from Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth, who won twice and finished fifth in the standings, didn't think Edwards' stunning decision would adversely impact JGR.
"I don't think it will really affect us that much," Kenseth said. "Before Carl got here, I felt like Denny, Kyle and I had a good working relationship. We did well with sharing information and understanding each other."
JGR's driver lineup is loaded and it continues to stock up on major sponsors.
Building off a successful one-off race last season at Darlington's throwback weekend, Tide and JGR upped the commitment for 2017. Tide will serve as primary sponsor of three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races; March 19 at Phoenix International Raceway, July 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Oct. 7 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tide will also have secondary sponsorship of all remaining races in the Cup series.
Take a look at the Tide ride here.
"I'm glad they expanded their role," Kenseth said. "I think it's exciting for NASCAR and fans as well because they were such a common name in the sport for so many years. You always noticed that car on the track. I think getting it back on the track is pretty cool for the sport."
Tide was on the car when Darrell Waltrip won his first Daytona 500 in 1989 and a memorable win for Ricky Craven that saw him take the checkered flag at Darlington by the shortest margin in NASCAR history: 0.002 seconds.
Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota will be adorned in the Tide PODS paint scheme.
"For us to be able to have a chance to race with them is just huge," Gibbs said. "Our sport survives on the fact that we have so many of the Fortune 400 companies that are with us in this sport."
Tide cited increased awareness of the brand following the Darlington race and wildly popular videos that starred Kenseth as reasons for a return.
— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) September 1, 2016
"Everybody saw that car," Gibbs said. "I think everybody in the sport cheers every time we get a sponsor that would be willing to come back into our sport."