Kenseth: What we get, what we don't get

By Jerry Bonkowski: But what I don't get – and I'm betting there's a lot of people wondering the same thing – why would Roush Fenway Racing make the announcement at this time?

Where does Kenseth go from here?

Matt Kenseth is heading somewhere after this season – rumored to most likely be Joe Gibbs Racing – although no official announcement has been made yet.

I get that.

But what I don't get – and I'm betting there's a lot of people wondering the same thing – why would Roush Fenway Racing make the announcement at this time?

Kenseth is the Sprint Cup Series points leader. He's having one of his best seasons ever. He's been a picture of consistency and competitiveness.

Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

So why, with 20 races left to go – more than a half-season and a potential second Cup championship to be won – did Roush Fenway Racing announce Tuesday that it will be parting ways with Kenseth at season's end?

I don't get that.

Sure, it's understandable that the other part of Tuesday's major announcement – naming Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to replace Kenseth for next season – was made early to maximize not only the potential of additional major sponsorship for the 2013 campaign, but also to start promoting and marketing Stenhouse as potentially the next likely Cup-star-to-be.

I get that.

Granted, Stenhouse is significantly younger than Kenseth, 24 to 40. He's a young up and coming star in waiting. He's also become a very talented driver in a very short time. To win a Nationwide Series championship, even with Cup drivers that compete in that series no longer being eligible to compete for the title, is still a significant achievement. Without question, and with no disrespect to his future RFR Cup teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, Stenhouse is a significant part of RFR's future.

I get that, too.

Yet, how can you effectively let a former Cup champion, two-time Daytona 500 winner and – most importantly – the current Sprint Cup points leader, go somewhere else?

I don't get that whatsoever.

Victory lane: race winner Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing Ford celebrates
Victory lane: race winner Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing Ford celebrates

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

In a way, I guess it all boiled down to a situation where Jack Roush was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. If he held off announcing Stenhouse's elevation to the No. 17 car, he ran the risk of losing potential sponsorship and marketing opportunities. And, if he promised Kenseth a new multi-year contract (Kenseth's contract with RFR expires at the end of this season), two things are pretty clear.

First, Kenseth might have had to take a pay cut. Why? Because of the second part of the equation: Even though the team has done as much as it could to attract sponsorship for Kenseth's team this season, Roush still will likely have to pay a considerable sum out of his own pocket to keep the No. 17 team going if Kenseth remained behind the wheel. Sadly, things do not look much more promising for next season if Kenseth stayed in the RFR Ford Fusion.

I get that.

But by making Tuesday's announcement, Roush was essentially forced to mortgage the future for the present. In other words, even with Kenseth being in the points lead and right now the leading favorite to win this year's championship, the bigger picture is what Stenhouse will potentially bring to RFR down the road, something that apparently outweighs what Kenseth can still do this season.

I get that, too.

Running the risk of throwing away 2012 in effect, though, sorry. Essentially erasing many of the good memories of Kenseth's 451 starts with RFR, his 2003 Cup championship, his 2 Daytona 500 wins and 22 Cup race wins driving for Roush over the past decade-plus.

I don't get that.

RFR, Roush, Kenseth and the entire organization can trumpet how they won't let Tuesday's announcement affect the rest of this season. They can say all they want about still being 100 percent focused on keeping Matt atop the points, win more races and ultimately win the championship in November.

Unfortunately with human nature, it doesn't always work that way. You can't tell me that at least a few of the members of the No. 17 team haven't already begun worrying about their own futures, maybe even are thinking about brushing up their own resumes.

Sure, some may go with Kenseth to his new home, while others may be retained to work with Stenhouse.

I get that.

But I don't think there's a more sure-fire way to destroy a team's motivation, confidence and riding-high feeling right now than to know that their driver is gone at season's end – and so may be their jobs. Even if Roush put it in writing that their jobs are guaranteed when Stenhouse climbs into the No. 17, that's still not enough assurance for me – and I doubt if it would be for any employees who are worried about their long-term future with the team and organization.

Where will Kenseth wind up? He's playing his future close to the vest, but the strongest rumors have him going to Joe Gibbs Racing to either A) Replace Joey Logano in the No. 20 Toyota or B) Drive the fourth car that JGR has long hoped to campaign.

Other rumors have Kenseth on the radar at Richard Petty Motorsports (if it expands to a third team), Penske Racing (also if it expands to a third team), Richard Childress Racing (rumors have Jeff Burton may be on his way out) and possibly replacing either Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

Any way you look at it, Kenseth has a number of suitors and potential new homes. He's going to be okay.

I get that.

Put all that together and even though the cynical part of me says Kenseth can essentially coast from here – that if Roush didn't try hard enough to keep him, why should Matt try overly hard to win more races for the greater glory of RFR between now and the end of the season – Matt is the kind of guy that will go out and win the championship just to spite Roush.

And believe me, I really get that.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Commentary
Tags best buy, bonkowski, champion, featured, ford, kenseth, nascar, nascar-ns, roush fenway racing, sprint cup