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Losing Matt Kenseth to a rival? Looks like major blow for Ford

Losing Matt Kenseth to a rival? Looks like major blow for Ford

Matt Kenseth: the wittiest man in NASCAR? And he's got a secret

   By Mike Mulhern

   SPARTA, Ky.
   Marcus and Bruton Smith are billing this weekend's NASCAR triple-header -- Trucks, Nationwide, and Saturday night's Kentucky 400 Sprint Cup race -- as a 'grand reopening' of their Kentucky Speedway, and planning to put last year's traffic disaster far behind.
   New parking lots, more traffic workers....
   Quick scorecard on who's hot and who's not:
   -- Matt Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle are still atop the Sprint Cup standings, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be hoping here to bounce back from his worst run of the season, 23rd at Sonoma.
   -- Michael Waltrip's operation continues this season's remarkable turnaround, with Clint Bowyer's California win, and Brian Vickers' unexpected fourth, as still only a part-timer.
   -- Jeff Gordon's incredible run of bad luck stretches on; he had potentially winning car last weekend, but ran out of gas.
   -- Brad Keselowski, whose win here one year ago launched on a brilliant championship challenge, hasn't had a great day at the track since winning Talladega in April, his second win of the year.
   -- Tony Stewart is back hot again, with two seconds and a third in his last three starts.
   -- Kyle Busch's mediocre season keeps going nowhere. After three straight weekends with blown engines, he lost out in a turn 11 tussle with Paul Menard Sunday.
   -- Kurt Busch, on the other hand, is coming off an emotional performance at Sonoma, perhaps a turning point not only in his season but perhaps his career.
   -- Team owner Richard Childress' three teams continue to struggle. Kevin Harvick's last win was September at Richmond; Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 last August; Jeff Burton is looking for his first tour win since 2008.
   -- On the manufacturers' front over the 16 races, Chevrolet dominates. Northing unusual there -- Chevy teams have won fully half the tour's 36 races three straight years now.
   This year Chevrolet already has seven wins, Toyota has five, Ford and Dodge both have two. Chevy drivers have finished either first or second 14 times, Toyota nine times, Ford six times, Dodge three times.
    In laps led, Chevy drivers have logged nearly as many as the next two car makers combined.
    That's the scorecard as the season nears the midpoint.
    But before handing out report cards, just recall how badly things were going for Stewart one year ago at this point...and how he charged to the championship.
    To be blunt, the 26-race 'regular' season counts for little on the NASCAR tour, and drivers and teams realize it.
    The drama -- of which there has been remarkably little on-track this season -- may have to come out in the garage....
    If so, that would leave the early focus here on Kenseth's stunning decision to leave team owner Jack Roush after 14 years and much great success, at the end of this season.
    It is almost a bizarre move, which Kenseth has yet to explain.
    And it is a hard blow to Ford Motor Company, since officials confirm Kenseth is leaving to join another car maker.

   It's akin to Jeff Gordon leaving Chevrolet and Rick Hendrick...
   Kenseth is now widely expected to sign with Toyota's Joe Gibbs.
    But Kenseth is still not saying just what's next (though it would certainly be curious if he wound up as Tony Stewart's teammate in the Chevy-Hendrick camp.)
   Just when Kenseth might make some official announcement isn't clear.
   So far Kenseth is just talking around the decision and not about it, except to hint the deal came down quickly.
   At 40, this could be Kenseth's last major contract (though he could well turn out to be as durable as ageless Mark Martin). So he's certain to want to make the most of it.
   While neither Kenseth nor Roush is offering much specific about the highly surprising move, this is likely the background, if the move is to Joe Gibbs:

   -- Home Depot, one of this sport's strongest and most important sponsors, has not been all that pleased with Jimmie Johnson's five championships with arch-rival sponsor Lowe's. Home Depot won two championships when Tony Stewart was at the wheel, but that last title was way back in 2005.
   -- Home Depot, according to some close to the situation, last summer pressured Gibbs to sign a driver who could take it to Johnson and challenge for wins and the Sprint Cup championship. Gibbs went after Carl Edwards, and Edwards appeared ready to sign last August when the deal fell apart, possibly when Ford Motor Company execs, so alarmed at losing Edwards, then challenging for the championship (which would have been Ford's first since Kurt Busch and Roush pulled it off in 2004), upped the ante and paid big to beat off the challenger.
    -- Now, it appears that Gibbs may finally have a driver that Home Depot can take to the bank, in Kenseth...who not so ironically is currently atop the Sprint Cup standings.
   -- The future for Joey Logano -- remember he just turn 22, barely half Kenseth's age, and much less experienced -- is likely also with Gibbs, as the team's fourth driver. Logano just won his second Cup race, at Pocono, in a decisive victory, and while he's been erratic during his few years in the big leagues, Logano has considerable obvious potential.
   -- This four-man package would be one of the sport's strongest -- Kenseth, 40; Denny Hamlin, 31; Kyle Busch, 27; Logano, 22 -- and youngest.
   -- On the other side, the loss of Kenseth can only be seen as a major blow to Ford Motor Company, losing this two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 NASCAR champion to arch-rival Toyota. Why Ford execs apparently didn't go the extra mile --as they did for Edwards -- to keep Kenseth in the fold is very curious...and it perhaps points to some significant issues inside the Ford camp itself, with the company now signing team owner Roger Penske to something like a five-year contract.
   The Penske-Roush situation has been closely watched in the NASCAR garage since it was announced in early March. Neither side has said much at all about what they might be talking about and planning behind the scenes.
    -- What this all does is leave Kenseth in a Lame Duck situation with Roush...whose end-games with Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray were, well, awkward at best.
   Kenseth insists he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig can hold together and challenge for the championship just as Tony Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb did last fall, after they had decided, sometime in September, to split at the end of that season.
   And in this sport, Matt Kenseth is indeed the king of cool.
   Maybe he can make it work out.



Matt at JGR

Is it \"telling\" that J.D. Gibbs answered a question about Matt moving to JGR with a totally positive reponse about him and concluding the remarks with (paraphrased)... \"We\'re focusing on this season where we have Denny, Kyle and Joey, too.\" Does \"too\" mean \"also focusing on the present\" in addition to our future with Matt?
Matt representing Home Depot IS the absolute BEST driver in NASCAR to appeal to their \"Demographics\"... even better than Tony Stewart did or Carl Edwards might have done. Matt Keneseth, middle-aged family man, calm cool and collected is the one driver that Home Depot\'s typical customer (middle-America homeowner) can/will identify with! Of course it doesn\'t hurt that most people associate Matt with Dewalt Tools, an obvious tie-in to Home Depot. I believe that Matt can and will do such a great job for Home Depot, he will be able to keep them (HD) in the sport... and gain for himself the recognition/TV face-time that he so richly deserves!

I suppose Matt will now get all the attention and

I suppose Matt will now get all the attention and accolades he's deserved for all these years, whether he ever wins another race. Now that he drives for one of the golden teams (read Toyota and Chevrolet), he'll get the airtime and the DW love that all those other bozos get.

I know for a fact why he left Jack's camp, and it has nothing to do with competitiveness or relationships, it's all about the dollars and the legacy. It's a business decision, without a doubt, but I just wish that there was some rule in place about negotiating with another team's drivers and crew during a season. It's poaching at the very least and tampering more likely. I see some very real conflicts of interest in this sport these days, very much like everything else in this "me, me, me" society. It sets some very poor examples for our children.

I'm proud of Jack Roush. He's never poached another team's drivers or crew, and you seldom (if ever) hear of his team's trying to bend the rules like those other teams that get all the hype. Cheers Jack. Your legacy will be around long after the Kenseth's of the sport are washed up and gone.

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