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Silly Season begins early with Kenseth announcement

At first blush last week’s announcement that 2004 Sprint Cup Champion Matt Kenseth would be leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the year came as a real shock.  

A rookie on the “Cup” circuit in 2000, the little known 28 year-old  short-track driver from Wisconsin was signed by Jack Roush to drive on the biggest stage in stock car racing.  Kenseth joined already established  Roush drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Chad Little, and Kevin Lepage.  

His top rival for rookie of the year honors that first season was another young up and comer, two-time Busch Series Champion Dale Earnhardt Jr.   

Kenseth was called south by former Wisconsin short track rival and NASCAR Busch Series team owner Robbie Reiser in 1997.  Kenseth won at Rockingham in February 1998, beating Tony Stewart and attracting the attention of Mark Martin, who introduced Kenseth and Reiser to his team owner Jack Roush.  Kenseth followed with two more wins and finished in second place in the 1998 Busch Series points standings. That year Dale Earnhardt Jr. was to win his first Busch Series Championship. 

Kenseth again ran second to Dale Jr. throughout most of the 1999 season, but fell to third in the final points standings, in part because of the impressive late season charge by Jeff Green.  For 2000 Jack Roush signed the team of Matt Kenseth and his Busch Series owner/crew chief Robbie Reiser to become the fifth team for Roush Racing. They would be sponsored by DeWalt Tools.

The team of Kenseth and Reiser notched their first Cup win in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600 and went on to finish 14th in the points race that first full season and Kenseth was voted  “Rookie of the Year.”  Kenseth would go on to win the “Cup” championship in 2003.  The team of Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser would remain intact through the 2007 season.  In addition to the championship in 2003, they would go on to win 16 races and over $51 million dollars in race purses. Following the 2007 season Reiser was promoted to General Manager at Roush Racing.  For the 2008 season Chip Boling replaced Reiser on the pit box for Kenseth.  As they had since Kenseth’s rookie year DeWalt Tools remained the primary sponsor for Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford. 

Fast forward to the 2012 season, Kenseth remains behind the wheel of what has now become the Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford.  Kenseth went into the 2012 season with 22 career wins.   Jimmie Fenning, the current crew chief, is the third one on Kenseth’s car since Reiser’s moved to upper management at Rous-Fenway Racing.  Kenseth had a solid season in 2011 with three wins and a fourth place finish in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kenseth got off to a fast start for 2012, winning the season-opening Daytona 500, and after 17 races is leading the points chase. Still Roush-Fenway Racing has been unable to find a primary sponsor for the car.  Jack Roush has been partially funding Kenseth’s team out of his own pocket. 

Last week, in a real shocker, Kenseth announced he will be leaving the only team he has ever driven for on the Cup Circuit at the end of the current season.  Kenseth has not said where he is going, but the hot tip seems to be Joe Gibbs Racing. 

It seems Home Depot wants to win races now and is getting antsy waiting for young Joey Logano to become a consistent winner. Also a bit more mature driver would better fit the image of the typical Home Depot customer.  No doubt the 22 year-old Logano has a bright future and it would seem Joe Gibbs Racing would not want to lose him, but Logano’s contract with JGR is up at the end of this season.

The most often heard scuttlebutt has Matt Kenseth taking over the No. 20 Home Depot car and JGR adding a fourth car for Logano for next season. Or if they just cannot come up with a sponsor, not renewing Logano’s contract.

It’s all about the money. All things being equa,l I don’t think Kenseth would be leaving Roush-Fenway Racing. But since they just signed Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle to new multi-year contracts and have not even come up with a full sponsor package for their former champion and current points leader,  I imagine Kenseth is not exactly feeling the love at Roush-Fenway.  

 

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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