Matt Kenseth: will he find as much success with Joe Gibbs and Toyota as he has with Jack Roush and Ford?
By Mike Mulhern
Things are happening fast and furiously this week, as the stock car tour heads into Saturday night's Richmond 400, the final race of the 26-race regular season.
All but two of the 12 playoffs spots have been settled, and it looks like Kyle Busch versus Kasey Kahne versus Jeff Gordon for the last two. And the men who need to win to have a shot at the chase are the men to watch.
The other top issues at the moment:
-- Matt Kenseth, from Ford's Jack Roush to Toyota's Joe Gibbs.
Now Kenseth and Gibbs have finally made it official, some three months after the news first broke. And Kenseth's move clearly isn't about getting into a more competitive ride.
So while maybe the salary and tee-shirt sales deals will be more lucrative for Kenseth, will he really find success and happiness at Gibbs with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as teammates?
Of course it could be asked if anyone could really consider Busch a 'teammate,' considering how his career has gone....
The bigger question rather is why did Ford Motor Company let one of their star drivers get away, and to arch-rival Toyota at that?
Did someone make a major miscalculation? Or was Kenseth, at 41, considered expendable?
Or was that Home Depot angle simply too big to overlook. With Lowe's-sponsored rival Jimmie Johnson boasting five Cup championships over the last six years, and geared up for a sixth title, Home Depot execs cannot be faulted for wanting Gibbs to get a title contender in that car....or risk losing the sponsorship altogether.
Gibbs nearly picked up Carl Edwards last summer for the Home Depot ride.
Joey Logano, in Sunday night's Atlanta 500. Next season this will be Matt Kenseth's ride (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
Ricky Stenhouse, the man Roush has picked to replace Kenseth, is a solid driver, a hard-charger, and not a bad pick. But Stenhouse is no Matt Kenseth, not yet at least.
Stenhouse, nearing 25, has only two Sprint Cup races under his belt. And why Roush, after announcing him as the new driver, hasn't had him running in every Cup race the past three months is another good question.
Kenseth, on the other hand, just won the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career, and he has a great shot at winning a third championship, with crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Roush clearly is banking on Stenhouse exploding out of the gate just as Carl Edwards did when Roush gave him that first big break.
However Ford and Roush are not only losing one of the best drivers in the sport, and one of the most consistent, they are now faced with having to race against him next season.
All in all, it is looking like someone in Detroit has made a big mistake here in losing Kenseth.
From Kenseth's side, considering how erratic the Gibbs teams have been this season, mechanical reliability of the equipment may be an issue he should have considered.
So why did Kenseth move to Gibbs?
He still hasn't provided any clear answer.
"I knew it would not only be a good fit but it's about winning races and winning championships, and you want to put yourself in a position to be competitive," Kenseth says.
Which is just what has at Roush's, where he's won 22 tour events.
"There's just a lot of different things that go into that," Kenseth says. "I feel like this is the right place for me. I know without a doubt it's the right place for me to be."
Joey Logano, just 22, now to be Roger Penske's newest driver (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
-- Ryan Newman signing a new one-year deal to remain with Tony Stewart....though sponsorship for both men appears up in the air. The U.S. Army and Office Depot are both ending sponsorship at the end of the season.
-- Richard Petty and his two major investors, Doug Bergeron and Andy Murstein, are still trying to wrangle a manufacturers deal with Ford, but it may not include much in terms of Detroit sponsorship. The major issue here may be how much more money are Bergeron and Murstein willing to invest in this team. Bergeron is CEO of Verifone; Murstein is the New York City taxi medallion franchise boss.
-- Joey Logano just announced his new deal with Roger Penske for next season.
Logano's move to the Shell-sponsored car arguably be seen as a step up, considering how well Brad Keselowski has been doing the past two years in Penske equipment. And the Shell sponsorship is one of the sport's biggest. And Keselowski himself has been a big player in persuading Penske to sign Logano.
For Ford execs, picking up Logano may prove to be a marketing plus....though Logano hasn't performed all that well in his three years on the tour.
For Shell, Logano comes with a squeeky clean image, after the Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger issues.
For Sam Hornish Jr., who has done a very good job in relief for Penske the past two months, will likely have a part-time Cup ride with Penske next season, and a full-time Nationwide ride again. Hornish, despite all his success for Penske on the Indy-car tour, has had a fitful transition to Cup over his five years in NASCAR.
-- On the Richard Childress front, the veteran team owner has decided not to appeal the $100,000 fine and six-week suspension for crew chief Slugger Labbe, but Childress is appealing the suspensions for two crew men, Craig Smokstad and Grant Hutchens. The appeal is set for Monday at the NASCAR R&D center in Concord, N.C.
One of NASCAR's toughest drivers, Ryan Newman (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)