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NASCAR weekend: The Chase is here and Matt Kenseth can get serious now

Matt Kenseth smiles as he waits garage during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aurace AtlantMotor Speedway Friday Aug.

Matt Kenseth smiles as he waits in the garage during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

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At Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet



Hauler parade, downtown Joliet to the Speedway, 6



Gates open, 11 a.m.

Sprint Cup practice, noon

Nationwide practice, 1:40

Final Cup practice, 3

Final Nationwide practice, 4:40

Rally in downtown Joliet, 4



Parking lots open, 7 a.m.

Gates open, 9 a.m.

Nationwide qualifying, 11:05

Sprint Cup qualifying, 12:40

Dollar General 300, 2:30 (ESPN2)



Parking lots open, 7 a.m.

Gates open, 9 a.m.

Luke Bryan infield concert, 11:15

Sprint Cup driver introductions, 12:20

GEICO 400, 1 (ESPN)


Tickets are available by calling 888-629-RACE (7223)

Updated: October 12, 2012 6:18AM

The “Silly Season” in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garages began early this year when Matt Kenseth announced in June that he was leaving Roush-Fenway Racing at the end of the season.

That was the first domino to fall.

At a Chicagoland Speedway event in late June to promote the Nationwide STP 300 July race weekend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said he was going to race a full-time Cup schedule in 2013 — for Roush-Fenway Racing.

So Kenseth’s replacement was pretty much set long before Kenseth, 40, announced Sept. 4 that he was going to race for Joe Gibbs Racing next year.

With the deal done, Kenseth can go into Sunday’s Geico 400 — the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship — at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet with peace of mind. Kenseth is eighth in the points standings.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, confirmed what many in the NASCAR community already knew on the down low — that he would move over to drive Gibbs’ No. 20 Toyota Camry.

“I was so comfortable [at Roush] and [staying] would have been the easiest thing to do,” Kenseth said. “You know the place and you’re real comfortable, but I think just getting started [at JGR] and getting to know everybody, getting them to know me, getting started with something new is probably the toughest part.”

Kenseth’s move to Gibbs put Joey Logano in limbo. Logano, 22, took over the No. 20 in 2009 when three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart left Gibbs to start his own team at Stewart-Haas. Logano reportedly turned down an offer to stay at Gibbs and run a full-time Nationwide schedule and a partial Cup slate.

Gibbs also tried to get a fourth car added to his stable of Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to keep Logano in the organization, but it didn’t work out.

Logano, the 2009 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, found an opportunity at Penske Racing. The same day Kenseth announced his deal with Gibbs, Penske revealed its deal with Logano for 2013 to drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford. Penske is dropping Dodge and moving to Ford starting in 2013.

Logano is inheriting a troubled ride in the No. 22. Kurt Busch drove it for Penske in 2011 but was fired in the offseason after verbally abusing a pit reporter in the season finale at Miami-Homestead.

AJ Allmendinger took over the ride this season but was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for failing a drug test. Allmendinger admitted later he tested positive for the prescription drug Adderall, which was given to him by a friend. Penske later fired Allmendinger.

J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, would not divulge details of Kenseth’s signing. Gibbs acknowledged the team jumped at the chance to get Kenseth, who has spent his entire 15-year career at Roush.

“When you realize there might be a possibility to get Matt, we felt like we’d be foolish not to pursue that,” J.D. Gibbs said.

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