|Matt Kenseth after winning the 2012 Daytona 500|
It’s true, unfortunately. Hopefully he’ll still be able to be competitive with some other team.
CONCORD, N.C. — Matt Kenseth brought Jack Roush his first championship at NASCAR’s highest level, and his first victory in the sport’s biggest race. Now a driver and a car owner who have been synonymous with one another for more than a decade are splitting up at season’s end.
Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday that Kenseth would leave the organization at the end of this year and be replaced in the No. 17 car by current Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kenseth — who is in the final year of his contract — has made all but six of his 452 career Sprint Cup starts with Roush, winning a long-awaited championship for the organization in 2003, and claiming Daytona 500 titles in 2009 and this season. He also currently leads the points standings.
“I’d like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service,” Roush said in a statement. “Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade, and we are extremely appreciative of his accomplishments and contributions to the team, and will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family.”
“I’m very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he’s given me over the past 14 years,” Kenseth said in a statement released in a series of posts on Twitter. “Together we have enjoyed a lot of success … [and] as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a [third] Sprint Cup title for Jack and RFR. Although I have nothing to announce regarding 2013, I feel the timing of the announcement gives RFR ample time to get things lined up. … [Darian] and Tony proved to us last year there is no such thing as a ‘lame duck’ season. We will continue to go to work and race hard.”
The reference there is to Darian Grubb and Tony Stewart, who won a championship together last year despite the fact the crew chief had been fired effective the end of the season. The Roush organization would disclose no details behind the impending split, but team president Steve Newmark did say the agreement was an amicable one.
“This is going to be one situation that, with respect to what went on behind the scenes, it’s going to remain a private matter,” Newmark said. “Matt and Jack have an unbelievable relationship, and this has been a private matter between them. Matt has eloquently put before that he’s not really going to talk about his contract issues in public. And so, we recognize there will be lot of speculation, and rightly so, about all the theories people can come up with … but it’s a very amicable parting of the ways. That said, it’s a bittersweet moment for our organization.”
Kenseth and Roush first paired up for the 1998 campaign in what is now the Nationwide Series. He joined the organization’s Cup stable in 2000, and has been a contender for race victories almost ever since. His former crew chief Robbie Reiser, an old friend and rival from their days together on Wisconsin short tracks, is now Roush’s general manager.
“Matt and I broke into this sport together, learned the ropes and were able to bring home a championship,” Reiser said in a statement. “Over the 20 years we have worked with each other, Matt has been a fierce competitor and become a close friend, not only for me, but as a mentor to young drivers like Ricky. I wish Matt nothing but the best for the next phase of his career, and know that we’ll remain close.”
Although Kenseth has maintained consistency during much of his career and leads the Sprint Cup standings, this year his No. 17 car has been dogged by sponsorship issues, leaving the Roush team to fund the vehicle through limited deals — or in some cases, out of its own pocket. But the performance never seemed to suffer, and at a sponsorship announcement earlier this season Kenseth said it would be tough to imagine driving for any other organization.
Next season, though, that will be the case. Kenseth should have no shortage of opportunities, given that Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing are among the elite teams that have drivers in the final years of their respective contracts. Penske is changing manufacturers next season to Ford, the same car used at Roush, but a statement released by Ford Racing boss Jamie Allison made it sound unlikely that Kenseth would be piloting a vehicle with a blue oval on the front in 2013.
“All of us at Ford are certainly disappointed to hear that Matt will be leaving, and he will be certainly missed by us and the Ford Racing fans,” Allison said. “We are thankful for Matt’s winning efforts and championship-caliber success with the Roush and Ford racing programs these past 16 years, both on and off the track. We will focus on this year and look forward to more success on the track in his No. 17 Ford Fusion this season.”
Next season that car will belong to Stenhouse, who has won five times on the Nationwide tour and is in pursuit of his second consecutive championship on that series. He is currently third in the standings, 23 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.
“There’s no question that Ricky is ready to take the next step,” Newmark said. “In all honesty, he probably was ready to take the next step at the end of last year, but we talked about it, and Ricky’s goal is to be a mainstay in Cup and win multiple championships. Internally — and this is Jack and Robbie and Ricky — we thought he might benefit from one more year in the Nationwide [Series]. But I think we all recognize he has the talent, the drive, the dedication and just the makeup of one of the best drivers in the world, and he deserves to showcase his skills at the Cup level.”
Newmark added that promoting from within “is really in the DNA of Roush Fenway,” which historically hasn’t been a major player in the free-agent market. Kenseth’s departure and Stenhouse’s step up could also have a trickle-down effect for 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, whom Newmark hopes will run a full-time Nationwide Series schedule for Roush next season. Sponsor shortages forced Roush to cut back to one full-time Nationwide program this year, leaving Bayne to drive a part-time car in addition to his partial Cup slate with the Wood Brothers.
But that all comes next season, after Kenseth moves on to another organization. Meanwhile, there’s one bit of business left at Roush for the points leader, who is chasing a second title to go along with the crown he claimed in 2003.
“Matt clearly has been an integral part of getting this organization to where it is, and I think that’s why you see an amicable parting,” Newmark said. “I also think that’s why this won’t have any impact on Matt and the No. 17 team’s run for the championship.”
Hopefully he’ll be able to stay in the sport. It seems that all my favourite drivers seem to be switching teams all the time….first Kurt Busch…now Matt Kenseth…Hopefully both of them will be able to find good rides next year.
Kenseth will certainly be missed in the 17 next year though.