2017-07-12 / Sports

Kenseth out at Gibbs Racing

Steve Mickey

After months of speculation about the future of Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing, the driver announced at Kentucky Speedway that he doesn’t expect to be back at JGR in 2018. The former NASCAR Cup Series champion is in the last year of his contract with Gibbs and ever since the season got underway at Daytona there have been rumors that he would not be offered a new contract.

Much of the speculation about the future of Kenseth at Gibbs had to do with the future of rookie Eric Jones, who is on loan this season to Furniture Row Racing. Gibbs and Furniture Row Racing are both Toyota teams and have a very strong working relationship with each other. Gibbs’s four drivers and crew chiefs have an open book when it comes to sharing information with the two Furniture Row teams.

There was no vacant ride at Gibbs for this season and Furniture Row was wanting to start a second team and since both are in the Toyota camp, the move to lend Jones was an easy move as it would give him valuable seat time at the Cup level in what is basically Gibbs equipment. When it was announced long before the 2017 season got underway that Jones would be making the move, the speculation began to surface that Gibbs was going to have to find a way to bring him back to fill to an open Cup ride.

Gibbs had already announced that Jones would be making the move to the Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing when Carl Edwards abruptly announced that he was going to immediately retire from racing, which left a Cup seat open for this season. Gibbs was in the predicament of having not one but two talented young drivers without a Cup ride, which led him to put Daniel Suarez in the vacant seat. Gibbs had already decided that Suarez still needed some more experience before making the move up to the Cup level, but his hand was forced when Edwards waited so to make his decision.

Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are solid fixtures in the Gibbs stable and both are under contract next season. That leaves Kenneth as the odd man out, but don’t feel too sorry for him just yet, as he now becomes the hottest driver available in the sport and the rumors about where he might land for 2108 are already starting to surface.

The best seat available at this time for next season is the one being vacated by the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendricks Motorsports. Hendrick may have two seats to fill next season as Kasey Kahne’s sponsor has already announced that it would not be coming back next season and the results that Kahne has posted over the last couple of seasons put him on the hot seat even though he is still under contract for the 2018 season.

Kenseth making the move to Hendrick in Dale Jr.’s ride next season would give the organization a proven winner who brings 19 years of experience that started in 1999 when he started five races for Roush Racing. He won what was then the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award the following year. He became the last series champion of what was the “Winston era” in 2003 after winning only one race, but had 11 top five and a career best 25 top-10 finishes.

He had 36 Cup Series wins going into the Kentucky weekend and has qualified for the playoffs in 11 of the 12 seasons that the format has been used. He joins Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, David Pearson and Richard Petty as one of only six drivers to win a Cup Series Championship, the Rookie of the Year, and the Daytona 500.

While there will probably be several open seats for next season, there will be no seat that will be filled until Kenseth announces his 2018 plans. The stats that he has put up over his hall of fame-type career will give him a choice of some great landing spots before the green flag drops at Daytona in February.

Race Preview
Event: Overton’s 301
Track: New Hampshire Motor
Speedway (1.058-mile oval, 12o of
banking in the turns)
Date: July 16, 3 p.m.
Radio: PRN
Defending Race Winner: Matt

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