News & Media

Kenseth says his next deal is already in place

June 27, 2012, David Caraviello,

For Matt Kenseth, it can be a strange experience to think about the first of next year, and leaving the only race team he's ever known.

"Once it's reality, and you've been somewhere for that long, and you walk in that place and you feel like it's your own and all that stuff, it's weird when you start thinking about after the first of the year, you won't be there anymore," the 2003 Cup champion said. "My key card won't work anymore. That will be kind of weird."

"I think we both thought we were going to keep racing together and I would retire driving the 17. I think that was Jack's hope, and I think that was my hope as well."


It will indeed be odd to picture Kenseth anywhere but Roush Fenway Racing, the organization for which he's made all but one of his 452 career starts on NASCAR's top division. But the 22-time race winner is splitting from the team Jack Roush founded after this season, and he already knows his destination for 2013 and beyond.

Kenseth said Tuesday that his next deal is already in place, although he wouldn't specify the team or if the car had full sponsorship behind it. He also declined to comment on whether he had spoken to executives at Joe Gibbs Racing, which has one driver [Joey Logano] in a contract year and room to expand to a fourth car. Kenseth said his new team would be revealed at a later date, though he wasn't sure of any timeline for an announcement.

"I do have a deal done for 2013 and beyond. I'm good there," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm looking forward to being able to announce that and talk about that so we can get all the media attention behind us so we can focus on the rest of the season -- not just for my group, but for their group as well. Looking forward to getting that out there so we can all go past that and work as hard as we an for 2012. But yeah, I do have something together, and really looking forward to it as well. I think it's going to be a great opportunity. I've been here a long time, and the timing just kind of works out. It will be kind of intimidating in one way, but it will be kind of neat in another to go try something else and see what it's like."

Just the same, it will be tough to say goodbye to the people he's working with now. Kenseth said the decision for him to leave Roush was made a few weeks ago. He talked with teammate Greg Biffle on the flight to Sonoma for last week's race, and spoke with both teammate Carl Edwards and crew chief Jimmy Fennig in northern California. Tuesday he went to the Roush shop and spoke with several members of his No. 17 team, many of whom have been with the program for some time.

"There are a lot of guys who have been there for a really long time, and all they've ever known is seeing that car with me driving it," Kenseth said.

"I'm sure a lot of them understand, I'm sure a lot of them don't. It will probably be that way with everybody -- fans, media, team members, everybody. But at the end of the day, I feel like I'm really close with those guys. There are a lot of those guys that are friends and are family. And it's always difficult when you have to face that part of it."

Why is he parting ways with Roush, the team he's been with since he first broke through as a championship contender in the now-Nationwide Series in the late 1990s? It's difficult for Kenseth to explain. After the announcement of Kenseth's impending departure was made Tuesday, Roush president Steve Newmark said the exact reasons behind the split would remain private. After Kenseth moves on, reigning Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will succeed him in the No. 17 car.

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"The difficult thing for everybody to understand is, there's not really a smoking gun, or not one reason," Kenseth said. "There wasn't a fight, there wasn't a blow-up, there wasn't a disagreement. There really wasn't any of that. At the end of the day, we got here in the middle of the season in a contract year, which I've never really had to experience before. Had an opportunity to go try something different next year, that I though was a really good opportunity for me and for my future. I've been at Roush for a long time, I feel like everything happens for a reason, and the timing just worked out to where I had something else ready to try. At the same time, Roush had an opportunity to move Ricky up to Cup, and they've been looking for a home for him for over a year ... It just kind of all worked out that way."

That said, there were times -- fairly recently -- when Kenseth believed he would retire in the No. 17 car. "I think up until a month or so ago, at least Jack and myself, we didn't really think we'd be in this spot. I think we both thought we were going to keep racing together and I would retire driving the 17. I think that was Jack's hope, and I think that was my hope as well," Kenseth said.

"That's not where we ended up. But I think we both have a pretty good understanding of why we are where we are, and where we're going. We're going to move forward. I have a great amount of respect for Jack. He's had a lot of respect for me over the years. He's been a great owner, he's always given me everything we need to go run. That's what makes it harder in a way, that we do have such a great relationship, and I do have so many people over there that I know and respect who have been there for a long time. ... There's not really something to point to and say, 'This is why. If this would have been fixed, it wouldn't have happened.' It wasn't like that. So that makes it a little difficult for some people to understand, and honestly it makes it difficult to explain."

Kenseth added that the lack of sponsorship on his No. 17 car -- which lost full-season primary Crown Royal after last season, and has made do this year through smaller deals or self-funding -- never compromised his ability to be competitive and was not a determining factor in him going somewhere else. "That part of it, to be honest, never really affected me," he said.

For now, Kenseth's focus will be finishing the 2012 season with his current team. Given the close relationship he has with people like Fennig, team general manager Robbie Reiser and engineer Chip Bolin, he doesn't see his lame-duck status as a hurdle to contending for this year's championship. Kenseth leads the Sprint Cup standings by 11 points over Biffle entering Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway.

"I know all my guys really good," he said. "I have a great relationship with Jimmy. I don't see him or I or Robbie or Chip or any of the guys involved letting this go in any other direction. I just don't see a distraction. I don't see somebody mad or somebody giving up. I just don't see those guys allowing any of that. So I think it's full speed ahead. I think we're all as committed as we ever were to 2012. I made a deal with those guys, and they made a deal with me to race until the first of the year. We're going to give it our all every week, and that's what we're going to do."