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Matt Kenseth focused on playoff run, not uncertainty of 2018 plans

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Matt Kenseth, the last driver to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship that didn’t involve playoffs, eliminations or stage points, may or may not have a job in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver joked Friday at Talladega Superspeedway that he’d given some thought to “maybe driving a school bus” next season.

He won’t be driving the No. 20 Toyota for JGR, a job he’s held for the past five years. That ride has already been handed to 21-year-old Erik Jones, currently driving the No. 77 for Furniture Row Racing.

“I thought it would be fun; I’d drive the kids to school every morning,” Kenseth, tongue planted firmly in cheek, said. “I enjoy that. I thought it would be fun to drive them home, too.”

Kenseth and wife Katie have three young daughters.

His championship came in 2003, the year before NASCAR debuted its 10-race, title-determining format. He’s won 38 times, including twice in the Daytona 500, and has finished 10th or better in more than half his 644 career starts. Fourteen of the 38 wins came after his move to JGR; 24 were earned while driving for car owner Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing.

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Kenseth has not won recently, his last victory was in July of ’16 at Loudon, but it’s doubtful the winless streak precipitated his departure from JGR. Officials announced a six-race primary sponsorship with Circle K for Kenseth in April only to announce three months later that Jones would take over the ride next year.

Kenseth did qualify for this year’s playoffs and made it to the Round of 12 thanks to finishes of ninth, third and 11th in the Round of 16. He finished 11th last week at Charlotte in the opening race of the Round of 12.

“I said a few weeks ago I wasn’t going to talk about next year any more, as long as we’re alive in the playoffs, which we’re certainly not one of the favorites right now,” Kenseth said. “We haven’t done the things we wanted to do, but we’re certainly still alive.

“Anything can happen this weekend. Kansas (next weekend) is a great track for us. I’m honestly just focused on the next six weeks or whatever it is at the moment.”

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Kenseth’s future isn’t the only uncertainty as the 2017 season begins to wind down. Changes are anticipated for Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports as well. Others have already been finalized.

“Certainly right now is a very interesting time,” said Kenseth, at 45 the oldest active full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “I think it’s a very tough time for car owners to find the money that they need to field competitive race cars with competitive personnel. I think it’s probably harder than at least it’s been since I’ve been around.

“And the cost is higher than when I started, as well. Certainly a challenging environment. I think there’s a lot of positives. Hopefully it will start to turn back the other direction.”