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Stunner: Matt Kenseth leaving Jack Roush and Ford at end of 2012

Stunner: Matt Kenseth leaving Jack Roush and Ford at end of 2012

Jack Roush (R) and Matt Kenseth and family (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   In a most unexpected, and surprising, even bizarre move, Jack Roush announced Tuesday he and long-time star Matt Kenseth will split at the end of the season, after 14 highly successful seasons together.
    Yes, that's Matt Kenseth, the guy who just won the Daytona 500 a few months ago, for the second time in a Roush Ford.
   Yes, that's Matt Kenseth, the guy who is atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
   Yes, that's the Matt Kenseth who had a great shot his second NASCAR championship last season.

    Kenseth himself had no comment; he has declined to talk about his future and contract negotiations for several weeks now.

   Kenseth used his twitter account to issue a brief statement:

    "I'm very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he's given me over the past 14 years. Together we have enjoyed a lot of success....

   "Darien (Grubb) and Tony (Stewart) proved to us last year there is no such thing as a "lame duck" team or season. We will continue to go to work and race hard."
   Among speculation about where Kenseth might land for 2013 is the Joe Gibbs Toyota operation, which would be a sharp snub to Ford. Gibbs has a three-car operation, with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, with Logano's standing with the team, in this his contract season, somewhat unclear. Gibbs made a strong bid last year to hire Carl Edwards to take the Logano ride, in a move to try to placate sponsor Home Depot, which has wanted a powerhouse driver capable of challenging Lowe's sponsored Jimmie Johnson.

   Or Gibbs could be moving to a four-team operation for 2012.

   Kenseth, at  40, is still at the peak of his career, obviously.
   Roush said he plans to put rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Kenseth's ride next season.
   "Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has more than proved his abilities on the track," Roush said.  "We feel that he is not only a key piece of our team's future, but a key piece of the future of the sport. 
     "I'd like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service. 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.
    "We're fortunate we were able to tap into Matt's potential and bring him on board many years ago, and I'm proud that together we were able to combine the tools and the resources of Roush Fenway with his talent and determination to forge a partnership that yielded a championship at the Cup level and all of his 22 Cup victories, including two Daytona 500 wins."

   What happens the rest of this season, which after all isn't even half over yet, is unclear.
   Roush insists "I'm committed to providing the team the best resources to continue their run for the 2012 championship. I have no doubt that Matt will do his part."

     To say this is unexpected is understatement. Kenseth has been the heart and soul of the Roush operation for years.
      Kenseth and Robbie Reiser, then his crew chief, now shop manager for the entire Roush operation, broke into this sport together. And they worked to win the 2003 championship.

    "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," Reiser said.
   "I wish Matt nothing but the best for the next phase of his career, and know we'll remain close."

    That Stenhouse would make the step up to Cup has been a given, but the Roush operation has been short of sponsors lately. Stenhouse has been running an unsponsored car on the Nationwide tour.

    That Kenseth would leave the Roush camp may speak to the sponsorship issues surrounding that Ford operation. Kenseth lost his major sponsor at the end of last season and this year he's had a mish-mash of sponsors on the quarterpanel, odd for a NASCAR champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner.
    Trevor Bayne, last year's Daytona 500 winner for the Roush camp, in the Woods Ford, has been unable to land a sponsor either.
    Jamie Allison, Ford's director of racing, said "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.
    " 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."


 Robbie Reiser, long-time crew chief for Matt Kenseth (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The State of NASCAR

What\'s wrong with this picture?
Driver A has 19 career Cup wins and no championships, rakes in $28 million per year, has millions of fans, and has sponsors tripping over themselves to sponsor him.
Driver B has 22 Cup wins, a championship, and sits atop the Cup standings at the moment, but can\'t land a sponsor for entire season, makes 1/3 of what Driver A makes, and just lost his ride while still in the prime of his career to an unproven rookie.
When a former Cup champ, and seemingly good guy, who is also atop the Cup standings can\'t land a sponsor, it\'s a sad day for the sport. Marketability has leaped over talent now when comes to getting a high-dollar sponsor. Look out Jeff Gordon.
Would love to have the funds to start a new Cup team right now and also have tons of money to throw at Kenseth, Newman, and Kurt Busch, all of whom are free agents after this season. That would be one heck of an upstart team right there. If Dodge was serious about winning in the Cup Series they would throw some money at these guys and try to build a winner.

Matt Kenseth

How about this for a surprise. Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch to Michael Andretti Racing Dodge?

And why not? Rumor has it Dodge is talking to Michael Andretti and what two better people to put in their Dodges. Both have PC Provisionals to fall back on. Kurt may have some baggage to deal with, but he is a hell of a driver and Matt is mister consistent and either or both drivers could propel Dodge into the chase next season.

What's old becomes new again...

In the early days of NASCAR it wasn't unusual to see a driver in a car he owned...then along came the team and sponsor concept. Sponsors threw money at the teams who in turn threw it at their drivers. Those days are gone. Now the trend seems to be leaning towards out with big $$$ drivers, in with the untested, green, but low $$$ drivers. A few years ago Stewart took the leap to become an owner/driver....which, at the time, most deemed to be suicide. Here we are, over three years have gone by, Stewart has garnered many wins, made The Chase each season, and in his third season...a Championship! And, unless he fires himself...I'd say Tony's seat is pretty secure! I'm sure there are some big name drivers looking at where they are in their career and wondering where they will be in five years...and which "youngster" will be sitting in the seat they weren't quite ready to give up.

Not Kulwicki at all

Let's not forgot that Stewart-Haas is basically Hendrick Motorsports North. Stewart gets motors AND chasis from Hendrick. Without them, Stewart would not have won the Cup championship last season. I'm still waiting for the NASCAR mandate that says that owners cannot supply motors and or chasis to more than four teams. Hendrick may not be listed as the owner of Stewart Hass, but he makes all of the parts that matter on all of those cars too. What Stewart did last season was pretty amazing, but it's nowhere close to what Kulwicki pulled off in 1992 as a driver/owner. Stewart is Chevy's golden boy, and they are going to leave no stone unturned to find him what he needs to be successful, including getting essentially all of the parts from the team that one the previous five titles.
As for "what's old becoming new again", hardly. If you or I could land a $20 million sponsor right now, we would both have Cup ride right now, and a pretty good one at that. It's about who brings the sponsor to the table now, and less than it ever has about driver ability.

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