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Jack Roush: Surprised and 'disappointed' with Matt Kenseth's decision to leave

Jack Roush: Surprised and 'disappointed' with Matt Kenseth's decision to leave

Well, maybe Jack Roush needed a new challenge..... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   SPARTA, Ky.
   Jack Roush says he was as surprised as anyone when Matt Kenseth told him a few days ago he wouldn't be returning to Roush's NASCAR operation next season, after 14 years together.
   And Roush says he didn't think contract talks with Kenseth -- talks that Roush himself was not involved in -- had devolved to the point where Kenseth would simply decide to leave at the end of 2012.
    "If I had been as vigilant and diligent, and interested, in that side of the business as I am on finding why a fuel pump broke or why a connection rod bearing failed or how we could get the next pound of downforce... if I had been taking care of the business side of the business as hard as I tried to take care of the technical side I might have been able to stop that."

   It hasn't been a great week or so for Roush, who got word from the National Transportation Safety Board blaming him for that August 2010 crash:
   "The NTSB report was not wrong...(but) it was not complete, both in terms of some of the conversations and the information that was available to me," Roush says, referring to the moments before the crash, which occurred when Roush, while attempting to land, decided to abort that landing because of a much slower plane taking off just ahead of him.
   "But in general I accept it as factual, and I'm going to put it behind me and move on."
    The airspace around the Oshkosh, Wis., airport where the landings were going on was extremely busy, with pilots flying in and out for an airshow.

   Jack Roush (L) and Matt Kenseth: next year, on opposite sides of the fence (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Roush apparently learned only from Kenseth himself the abrupt decision to leave without Roush or Ford execs having any opportunity to intervene or make counter-offers.
    During last summer's contract negotiations with Carl Edwards, there was a flow of talks that allowed Ford to make a last minute pitch to keep Edwards from jumping to the Joe Gibbs camp.
   "Matt told me he appreciated what we had done for him and with him for 15 years and it was over," Roush said.
    "I was surprised."

     Roush, though clearly hurt and upset over the Kenseth situation, preferred to talk about the potential that Ricky Stenhouse has stepping into that ride next season. "Ricky has a Nationwide championship under his belt, which Matt didn't have when he got the ride," Roush said.
   "Ricky comes from a racing family, and has the motivation to take advantage of this opportunity.
   "I look at what Mark Martin had, when he came with us, then a new NASCAR owner in 1988....and I look at what Jeff Burton had when he came with us....and of course Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch: they were all not established drivers when they came in. And I expect to do as well with Ricky as I've done with the others."

   The man replacing Matt Kenseth: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And that may be one of the big points here, in the Kenseth debate: that Roush himself has taken a number of little-known racers and made them superstars, even champions.
    The other side, unsaid, is that loyalty is not always an easy commodity in the NASCAR garage.
    One big point: Kenseth certainly can't be making any move here in order to 'better' himself out on the track. Kenseth not only leads the Sprint Cup standings, and has just won the Daytona 500 for a second time, but he also sports the best overall finishing average for the first half of the season.
   Hard to argue against that kind of technology and that type of organization.
   And if Kenseth isn't leaving to find improved performance, then is he leaving simply for more money?
   "Technology and performance and the team and the people, the engineers and the support group around him have never been referenced in any conversations he's had with me," Roush said bluntly.
    So it's just money?
   "I can't go there," Roush said.
   Roush, seemingly blindsided by Kenseth's move, injected a bit of humor into the situation: "On the matter of what has happened the last week here with my race team, like many of you I am wondering what Jack is going to say today."
   Cue the laughter, albeit ruefully delivered.
   Then Roush made the point that over the 15 years with Kenseth, Roush's NASCAR operation has become a major multi-team power on the tour, finally winning championships.
    "He -- like Mark Martin and Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards -- is a cornerstone of what we do, and his DNA is all over the things that we are known for and our success."
     "I was as surprised as most of you must have been when I learned he would not be signing with us to go forward," Roush said.
   "I had no idea we were at that point."
   Any details about the negotiations, Roush said he wouldn't talk about, citing some "agreement.:"
   The loss of Kenseth follows the loss last fall of sponsor UPS, which forced Roush to cut back to three Cup teams. And Roush's Nationwide cars have not been well sponsored this year.
   While Roush may be short of sponsors, he is not short on drivers, with Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne, waiting in the wings, men he  called "very capable, able, ready, enthusiastic, motivated and ambitious."
    And Roush announced he planned to run Bayne full-time on the Cup tour next season.

    Roush, while calm and low-keyed in his presentation, appeared clearly hurt by the turn of events with Kenseth.
     "When I chose Mark Martin in 1988 he didn't have a place....
     "When we made a place for Matt, he was struggling to hang on to a Nationwide ride, with Robbie Reiser as his team owner.
     "Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards...we have had a lot of success with young drivers that were not established, and have not made it our habit to go out and try to court somebody else's driver to see if we could improve our prospects by gaining at somebody else's loss."
     Perhaps Roush and his people could have gone at it harder and made a bid for the Home Depot sponsorship, which appears key here.
     "This is a challenging time for sponsorships; it is tough for everybody," Roush said.
    "The economy certainly caught us in a bad position, with all our (sponsorship) programs maturing (ending) right when the economy went in the tank.
      "It is a reality that it takes multiple sponsors to make most of these programs work."
     Perhaps that was part of Kenseth's thinking, that sponsorship souvenirs can be a large part of this sport for drivers.
     However Roush also made the point that he has several times reached into his pockets to keep a driver and team going:
    "We ran Jeff Burton for a period of time when I had no sponsor for him. We ran Carl for a period of time with no sponsor for him. We did the same for Kurt Busch.
    "There was no predisposition that we were limited to what we would do with Matt based on sponsorships."
    Despite the hurt, Roush says "the friendship will survive.
    "I have not lost respect for Matt, and I hope he hasn't for me."
    However, Roush added with a grin, "I won't have the same sense of wishing for his success on the track next year....
    "He will, from my point of view, be moving to the dark side."
    Still, how downright angry is Roush?
    He smiles at the question, and dodges it: "Well, I was surprised and disappointed.
   "There just isn't a lot I can say. Matt is a friend, and I'm not mad at Matt, and I'm not mad at my own organization for the fact that they didn't interact (enough) with Matt and that we didn't get a satisfactory result.
    "But this sport has taken on many of the vestiges of big-time stick-and-ball sports....where athletes move around. So I guess this is just the result of the big-business aspect of what we do."

     Jack Roush: with teams 1-2 in the NASCAR standings (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




RFR Attitude Adjustment Needed?

Obviously the NASCAR Sponsorship Landscape is rough terrian in these tough economic times, but... RFR seems to have more difficulty than most at keeping their players and payers happy! Does anyone really believe that \"Jack\'s best friend\" Mark Martin or Jeff Burton and now Matt Kenseth really wanted to leave?
Why did DeWalt/Stanley Tools flee to Richard Petty Motorsports? Why did the other \"RFR lost sponsors\" who are still spending money in motorsports marketing, bail on them?
The longevity of the relationships cultivated and enjoyed by HMS, JGR, Penske, RCR, EGR, and even many of the smaller teams, proclaims loud and clear that there is fundamental flaws in the leadership at RFR! It appears that attitude adjustments need to be considered!

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