If Matt Kenseth hits free agency in 2018, where will he land?
When Matt Kenseth hits free agency in 2018, there will be options for him to continue his career in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series. While Kenseth is indeed the oldest active driver in NASCAR’s top series at 45 years old, it would be a shock for teams pass on a driver who still turns in quality runs, even through a dismal first half of 2017.
Kenseth joked back in April that he could race another “15-20 years”. It seems as if Kenseth has no real desire to retire. But it is compelling that nearing the midway point of the 2017 season, there has been no real “progress” regarding a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. With that being said, it is unlikely that Gibbs would hold Kenseth’s struggles entirely against him, as none of the four drivers in Gibb’s stable have won a race this year.
The complex nature of NASCAR’s sponsorship woes in recent years, as well as a batch of new drivers waiting in the wings, adds more uncertainty to Kenseth’s position at JGR. When Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing after the 2012 season, he immediately made an impact at JGR. Replacing Joey Logano was seen as a suprise move, but Kenseth initially proved it was the right decision. In 2013, he won seven races and was Jimmie Johnson’s main competition for the championship that season. Since then, Kenseth has had mixed results, but has always remained competitive, winning a total of 14 races with JGR.
One of the primary reasons Kenseth left RFR, was because their team was losing sponsorship. Something that has also happened at JGR. Since 2013, the #20 car has lost Home Depot and Dollar General as major sponsors. The team gained a familiar sponsor in DeWalt for the bulk of this season’s races. They also acquired Circle K for this season as well as next season. While Kenseth’s talent is undeniable, it will prove difficult to drive for a team without major sponsorship commitment. So here are a few possibilities of where he could land as we enter Silly Season.
Joe Gibbs Racing/Furniture Row Racing
Joe Gibbs would be incredibly farsighted to give up on Kenseth. Especially with sponsorship commitment from Circle K through next year and Kenseth still being a top 15 driver. With Kenseth’s recent struggles, he still brings a lot to their stable of drivers. The untimely retirement of Carl Edwards forced Gibbs to promote Xfinity Series Champion Daniel Suarez while having Erik Jones in the #77 car at FRR. With the added flexibility of working with FRR, Gibbs has options for what he could do with Kenseth.
Kenseth could very well remain in the #20 for another few years. It is also possible to shift over to the #77 team and work aside Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. has turned FRR into a respectable team in the garage area. Kenseth would go to a team that is a big threat to win the title this year. If Gibbs is interested in rolling with a youth movement and having Suarez in the #19 and Erik Jones to the #20, this would be a viable option for Kenseth to stay with a Joe Gibbs affiliated team.
Rick Hendrick is no stranger to identifying talent and taking risks. Jimmie Johnson is the most obvious example of Hendrick finding an unknown talent and turning him into a superstar. Hendrick took a risk on a 50 year old Mark Martin in 2009. Martin had not run a full schedule since he partially retired in 2006. He would end up winning five races for Hendrick Motorsports that year in the 5 car. Martin would go on to race two more seasons for Hendrick and then finished two 24 race season with Michael Waltrip Racing.
If Hendrick were to take a risk on signing Kenseth, it would pale in comparison to signing Martin in 09. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring, there is at least one car open for Hendrick to fill. Kasey Kahne has one more year on his contract, so Hendrick will be looking to most likely fill two cars in the next year.
Kenseth would be a great fit here because Hendrick Motorsports only has William Byron and Alex Bowman as a possible prospects to bring up for now. Kenseth could sign a 2-3 year deal and provide Hendrick with a quality driver for the time being. Byron and others could then work through the Xfinity Series. Of course, Hendrick could opt to put Alex Bowman in the 88, giving him another year of cup experience. If he wants another viable option to compete for a championship, Kenseth would be his best bet.
Stewart Haas Racing
Tony Stewart knows what Kenseth has to offer as a driver. Stewart/Haas may have an opening, as Kurt Busch’s contract is up after this season as well. Stewart would add Kenseth next to Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick. Patrick has one year left on her contract, but sponsors have been concerned about her level of competition. For Kenseth to sign with SHR, he would have to have been denied seats at Hendrick and Gibbs first and most likely would accept a spot there as a last resort.
Brad Keselowski is also a name that has been discussed in the garage area regarding his contract status. Kenseth and Keselowski are no doubt the two hottest free agent names and both could very well change seats in 2018. One of Keselowski or Kenseth will end up at Hendrick Motorsports next year if you ask me. Roger Penske has no real reason to cut ties with Keselowski, so I expect a contract decision with him real soon. But with Ryan Blaney’s recent success, could we see him in the #2 car, giving Penske a young face to build around? Let the Silly Season begin!