Joe Gibbs Racing announced Friday morning second-generation driver Ross Kenseth would make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut this June 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
The son of 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth has made a name for himself on the late model stock car circuit, winning the 2012 All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (Tenn.) and a number of other prominent short-track races.
"It’s a dream come true to get your first start with a competitive organization that’s won a lot of races. It’s something every driver wants to have," Ross said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "You don’t want to get in a car where you’re fighting for 30th. It’s real exciting. To be a part of the JGR organization, you couldn’t ask for anything more."
"This is an exciting time for us," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "We’ve got several young, talented drivers in our stable, and now we have the chance to add Ross Kenseth to that list. Ross has been working hard and showing that he is ready for this next step. We’re excited that he will be doing that in the No. 20 car with our partner Dollar General."
The 21-year-old will drive the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the Chicago 300, with the same number and sponsor on his car as his father in the Sprint Cup Series. That series is off that week, so Matt plans to be at Chicagoland. Ross said having his father will on hand will be great and that he expects it will help "quite a bit."
"To have guys like my dad, Kyle (Busch), Erik (Jones) and guys like that who have run real well and won a lot of races, hopefully it gets us up to speed that much quicker," he said.
Both father and son worked with JGR and Dollar General over the last year to set up his debut, and things finally fell in place for it to happen at Chicagoland Speedway.
"It’s been trying to get the situation to be right where we could get together with Dollar General and Coach taking a chance on me and just have everything line up where they had an open race," said Ross. "It just worked out to be Chicago, which I was real excited about being close to home."
The elder Kenseth said his son has proven his worth on the short-track level, winning a number of high-profile races, and "he’ll never be more ready for the opportunity than he has right now."
"Ross has been working really hard to try and get a good opportunity, certainly I don’t think the opportunity could get any better than this," said Matt. "I feel like the 20 is one of the best XFINITY cars out there this year with Wheels (crew chief Michael Wheeler) running that thing. It’ll be a great shot for him."
Between now and his NASCAR debut, Ross plans to run a few late model races, as well as two ARCA Racing Series events at Michigan International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway with Kenny Schrader Racing.
"I think getting those laps there will help me quite a bit going forward," he said.
Kenseth hopes the success of the No. 20 team translates to his debut at Chicagoland, but also pointed out he has raced against a lot of the XFINITY Series regulars on the late model circuit.
"I think just being with JGR and having that good crop of drivers around you to help you out, and being in the 20 car, which has been fast all year, will just make a big difference," he said. "A lot of those guys, from Chase (Elliott) to (Ryan) Blaney, I’ve ran with them on the late model level, so being able to compete with them then and on different levels of short track racing I think helps the confidence going into it."
As far as expectations, Ross said he just hopes to go out there and do what he was brought in to do.
"I just hope to do my job when I get there," he said. "I don’t want to get there and say, ‘The thing handles great,’ then run 30th. I think going into it if we can keep the car clean throughout the race and be there in the end, we’ll have a shot to run good."