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Matt Kenseth: the story of the year? but how will it end?

Matt Kenseth: the story of the year? but how will it end?

Pensive Matt Kenseth: a new team for 2013, and it won't be with Ford (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

    SPARTA, Ky.
    Matt Kenseth says.....not much.
    Three days after the news broke that the two-time Daytona 500 winner would be leaving team owner Jack Roush at the end of the year, after 14 seasons and 22 tour victories and 451 Cup starts and that 2003 Winston Cup championship together, Kenseth arrived at Kentucky Speedway to face some questions about why...but didn't really have much in the way of answers.

    Kenseth says telling Roush last week that he would be leaving was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.
    But Kenseth points out that it's almost July, halfway through the season, and he still didn't have a solid sponsorship package from Roush and Ford.  
    In fact Kenseth doesn't really have a full-time sponsor this season.
    And naturally he's been getting calls from hopeful team owners.
    "It has been a stressful season, to be honest with you -- really all off-season... from leading into last off-season and the sponsorship search and all that," Kenseth said.
    The team has put together a series of sponsorships, Best Buy and Fifth Third among them. However he's been unable to land a full-time major sponsor, for whatever reason.
   And 2013 looms.
   "Getting to this point in the season it was definitely somewhat stressful not knowing 100-percent what I was going to do," Kenseth said.
    So when this new -- still unnamed -- deal came up within the last few weeks, Kenseth decided to make his move.
   "It all ended up coming together pretty quickly," Kenseth says.
   Without making any announcement he says "I really felt, and feel, it is absolutely the right thing to do, and the right place for me next year, and for my future as well.
    "It is hard to explain, but a lot of things pointed and pulled me in that direction. A lot of things happened -- or didn't happen -- that led to that."
    Now Kenseth has to figure out how to hold his team together for the rest of the season. And that may be tricky.
     "I think everything is good," he insists. "For the rest of the season it is only a distraction if we let it.
    "It is totally up to me and the race team how we handle this.
    "I think this is the toughest weekend, and after that I think things will settle down a little and we will be just fine for the rest of the year."

   And the official announcement, with his new team?
    "Hopefully it will be sooner than later," Kenseth says. "That ball is not in my court, unfortunately.
    "We are trying to get that done as soon as possible, just so it is out there and we can go on.
    "Everybody has their ideas, and half the story is out there, but hopefully we can get it out there and go on."

     The 'half' Kenseth refers to is apparently his moving to Joe Gibbs' Toyota camp, possibly as Home Depot's new sponsored driver.
     However Joey Logano is currently in that ride, and his precise future is unclear. Presumably Gibbs would like to keep Logano, possibly with a sponsor like Dollar General.
      There is still a Dodge deal somewhere out there, though, possibly. Kenseth in a Dodge for 2013?      
     Well, that would certainly be quite a challenge, no matter how it could shake out. Dodge has no engine program for 2013 (though Roger Penske's current 80-man Dodge engine building operation could be in play). And Dodge has no team owners for 2013, though Indy-car's Michael Andretti says he's been considering an expansion into NASCAR.
    Any Andretti Dodge deal would be a major undertaking however, on several fronts. Penske himself, who runs both NASCAR and Indy-car, says NASCAR Cup costs three times as much.

    Kenseth says "I think the biggest challenge is all the outside distractions.
    "My morale, and the morale of the team and guys around me, and even at the shop....to get all this behind us, and realize it is up to us, that it doesn't matter what is going on around us and what people are saying.
   "That is difficult... especially if you haven't been in that spot."
   And Kenseth has never been in that spot himself; he's been with Roush his entire career.
    "Getting through this weekend and hopefully things will die down just a little bit," he said. "Just making sure we all keep our eye on the ball.
    "I have a really strong group of guys, and if anybody can handle that it will be those guys.
    "For sure it is a distraction, and everybody starts thinking about letting their mind wander....
    "But it is something for next year, not this year. And we have a ton of racing to do this year."


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