Category: Racing

Matt Kenseth hits free agency: Will JGR sign him to a new deal?

 

 

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.

Hendrick Motorsports

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!

 

Road America Deserves a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date

By: Bill Tewes

The NASCAR XFINITY Series makes its third and final road course stop today for their late August trip to the famed Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI for the Road America 180 Fired up by Johnsonville. NASCAR has been coming to Road America since 2010 and while the course has been notoriously known for its open-wheel racing, the quality of competition among the XFINITY Series drivers has been can’t miss racing.

Over the past five races at Road America, there have been five different winners. Also many of the races have been extended to overtime and have feature some dramatic finishes. The 2014 race saw road course regular Alex Tagliani drive from 23rd to 2nd in all of eight miles (two laps) and come up just short of victory.

If racing has been extremely competitive and fans seemingly love everything about Road America, then why has NASCAR been reluctant to include Road America as part of its Sprint Cup Series schedule? Attendance has been dwindling at many of the “traditional” tracks that NASCAR has kept on its schedule. I think it would behoove NASCAR to consider reworking the schedule and entertain new options as fans are beginning to lose interest. The minor tweaks NASCAR has made in its scheduling process over the years have not been enough to reengage a fan base that has been fed up with the wrong type of change.

The IndyCar Series made an adjustment to their schedule and returned to Road America after an over seven-year absence, largely due to the fact that the Milwaukee Mile is now non-existent as far as an operating venue for both NASCAR and IndyCar. IndyCar’s return is important to NASCAR because the estimated attendance figures for the June 28th race were quite impressive for a series that is not nearly as popular as NASCAR. Elaborating further on that race, IndyCar.com writer Mark Robinson suggested: “Track officials didn’t release attendance figures, but estimates ranged at 50,000 or more on race day.”

I cannot begin to imagine how wildly popular this course would be with NASCAR fans, who are craving something new in the Sprint Cup Series. While there is somewhat of a stigma against road courses as far as NASCAR goes, I think the unique combination of speed as well as Road America’s reputation for being a track that tests even the best of road course drivers would be enough to engage even the casual fan. The mammoth 14 turn, four-mile tricky configuration would offer a different challenge that the Sprint Cup Series has not seen since the days of Riverside International Raceway, which ran Cup races from the mid 70’s to late 80’s at its famous nine turn course.

Another potential advantage Road America would have as far as the Sprint Cup Series is that it would be a chance for fans to see Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth in action. The 2003 Sprint Cup Series Champion has not been on a Wisconsin based NASCAR sanctioned track since he raced the XFINITY Series race at the Milwaukee Mile back in 2001. While Kenseth is not exactly the best road course racer around, it would give some extra incentive for Kenseth fans state-wide to make the trip up to Elkhart Lake.

In a 2015 interview with USA Today, Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards gushed about the possibility of the Sprint Cup boys racing at Road America. Edwards won the first ever XFINITY Series race at Road America back in 2010 and said: “If you said the Cup series was going to Road America next year, there would be 200,000 people there,” Edwards said. “If you had a Cup race at Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) in Indianapolis, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened. I went to the XFINITY Series race at Milwaukee, and it was like going to the state fair.”

While I love Edwards’ enthusiasm, his attendance figures are a little bit of an exaggeration. But after the aforementioned IndyCar race I think it is realistic to think that NASCAR could pull 80,000-90,000 fans. The 2017 Sprint Cup Series schedule was recently released and there are still no plans for an expansion to Road America. But with attendance continuing the fall at tracks all across the schedule, NASCAR may not be able to avoid adding Road America to their Sprint Cup Series schedule for much longer.

Matt Kenseth methodically powers to victory at New Hampshire

 

By: Bill Tewes

UPDATE: According to Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com, Kenseth’s #20 Toyota failed post race inspection during the laser tech portion of the inspection. Fines/Penalties will be announced Wednesday.

Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth took home his second checkered flag of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series campaign this afternoon, winning the New Hampshire 301. After starting 18th, Kenseth led only 38 laps and methodically worked his way into position late in the race to secure the victory, holding off charges from Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps, but was passed by Kenseth late in the race and then had a clutch issue; which forced him to restart in 4th gear for the rest of the race, killing his restart speed. Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch led the most laps (133), but suffered from a loose race car and was relegated to an 8th place finish.

Kenseth sat down with the NBCSports post-race show panel and gave a run-down of his race weekend: “The first run we were really, really tight. And for me this place, typically the middle gets tighter, tighter and tighter. And it’s easy to tighten something up when it’s loose but when you won’t roll the center fast enough it’s really hard to fix that. and I don’t know what he did from run one to run two. But run two it was money; and after that it was just real small adjustments just to keep trying to keep up with the track and keep up with the middle of the corner. I was pretty happy with it in happy hour yesterday and after the first run today I was really pretty happy with, it just took us a long time to get back all the track position. I did a poor job of qualifying and got blocked in the pits, it just took a while to get back up there.”

The Dollar General team had only one mishap on a pit-stop around midrace where he slid into his pit box and had to back up in order to leave, costing him multiple spots and valuable track position. Aside from that, the 20 car looked strong all day as Kenseth slowly but surely worked his way through the field and ran in the top five for vast majority of the 301 miles. Kenseth avoided late race accidents (multiple cautions were thrown with less than 30 to go) by being positioned upfront and his crew adjusted throughout the race to keep him out of traffic and in contention for the win.  

This race marked Kenseth’s third career victory at New Hampshire and comes at an important time as far as the Chase for the Sprint Cup is concerned. The 20 team is continuing to show that they will be a big threat when the Chase kicks off at New Hampshire in seven races. Kenseth is two wins shy of the Chase points leader Brad Keselowski (four) and will have excellent opportunities at Bristol, Darlington and Richmond to pick up a couple of victories before the Chase starts.

Kenseth’s season has been marred with inconsistent runs as well as some unfortunate luck. The good news for Kenseth fans and Joe Gibbs Racing is that Kenseth has had excellent runs at Chase tracks (Charlotte, Dover Kansas, Phoenix and now New Hampshire) and has wins at two of those tracks (Dover, New Hampshire). Kenseth could take some serious momentum into the chase if he can get one more win and will definitely have a lot in his favor by running well at these Chase tracks. The Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis next week where Kenseth looks to take home his first ever Brickyard trophy and build momentum off today’s victory.