News & Media


Kenseth to keep number

May 14, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rumors of the demise of the No. 17 spawned from ambiguous sponsor release

As a fan handed Matt Kenseth a No. 17 die-cast replica of the car he drives for Roush Fenway Racing to be autographed at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Monday, both fan and driver looked relieved.

Despite recent rumors to the contrary, the number shall remain the same on Kenseth's race car.

"[The press release] didn't say we were changing our number. But it left a lot to be interpreted, and I know a lot of people in Wisconsin, even in the media, took ahold of it and it got a lot of momentum.""

--MATT KENSETH

With a small gaggle of reporters crowded around Kenseth to ask him about the squashed rumors and new sponsor Fifth Third Bank, the fan took his signed car back and cradled it like a newborn baby.

"I think we were all worried about that," the fan muttered about the rumor before shuffling off.

Relax, folks.

As it turns out, too much was read into a press release put out by some marketing folks suggesting that everyone needed to tune in for Monday's announcement because there might just be a couple of new numbers on Kenseth's car, or something to that effect.

The car unveiled at the Hall still bore the No. 17 Kenseth has driven full-time in the Sprint Cup Series since 2000, and in NASCAR since 1997 when he broke into what was then known as the Busch Series. Kenseth said there had been some discussion of putting the number 53 on the car for this Saturday's All-Star Race only, but even that fell through.

So the only "news" to come out of Monday's announcement, really, was that Fifth Third is on board as primary sponsor of the No. 17 Ford for four races this season -- and for at least that many going forward in what was described as a "multi-year marketing partnership." The first event for which Fifth Third will serve as primary sponsor is the All-Star Race, followed this season by the June 30 Cup race at Kentucky, July 29 at Indianapolis and Aug. 19 at Michigan.

Kenseth admitted he's pleased to keep the No. 17.

"It's just a number. But obviously 17 has been on our car since I started in the Busch Series in 1997, so it's neat to keep that number -- although I think it would have been cool if they could have gotten it approved by NASCAR to run the 53 for the All-Star Race," Kenseth said.

Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark admitted that perhaps the wording of a press release touting Monday's announcement was a bit misleading.

"They really grabbed ahold of it in Wisconsin," said Kenseth, a native of that state. "If you really look at the press release and don't read anything into it, it didn't say we were changing our number. But it left a lot to be interpreted, and I know a lot of people in Wisconsin, even in the media, took ahold of it and it got a lot of momentum."

Kenseth found himself bombarded with questions about it last weekend at Darlington Raceway.

"We were just trying to generate some buzz (about the announcement). ... There was sort of a play on words about a possible new number going on the car, and along with that came some unintended consequences," Newmark said. "In this case, Matt Kenseth had to bear the brunt of that. His e-mail and Twitter accounts lit up -- and probably half the state of Wisconsin expressed their concerns over him possibly abandoning the iconic No. 17. I'm actually pleased to say that's not going to be the case."

Meanwhile, Jack Roush, co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing, said the organization is committed to having Kenseth run under its banner even as the No. 17 car continues to seek more sponsorship for this season and beyond. Kenseth, who has won the season-opening Daytona 500 this season and in 2009, has never run for another team in NASCAR.

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"We're just fine with Matt Kenseth for next year," Roush said. "The program doesn't have as much sponsorship sold as we need to sell. But there was never a question about whether or not we had the wherewithal and the commitment to stay with Matt Kenseth.

"Matt Kenseth is the cornerstone of Roush Fenway, and he'll be a part of it as long as I am -- or as long as he wants to be. He certainly has a place here as long as I'm able to stay the head of it."

Kenseth downplayed speculation that he might leave Roush Fenway if there isn't enough sponsorship for his car next season, adding that Monday's addition of Fifth Third at least is a big step in the right direction.

"I think through the years, I've done a good job of not discussing contract stuff in the media. Why start now?" Kenseth said. "But certainly having sponsorship on the car helps. There are two things that make this sport happen, and that is No. 1 the fans, and No. 2 the sponsors."

He also attempted to nip in the bud any rumors of his possible departure before they pick up much steam.

"It's been 15 years since I got my first contract (with RFR) to hang out with Mark (Martin) and test and do all that," said Kenseth, who won the 2003 Cup championship in the No. 17 Ford. "I don't think you could ever question the commitment or loyalty on either side -- because it has been a long time and I think it's been successful."

Kenseth added that he was surprised -- perhaps even a little pleased -- that the rumored number change to his car generated so much fan reaction.

"I guess it's good to know they care that much," said a smiling Kenseth.