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'Deal done for 2013' says Kenseth

28 June 2012

After the startling announcement by Roush Fenway Racing on Tuesday that former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth was to leave the team after a partnership lasting 14 years and nearly 500 races together, Kenseth insisted that there was no question where he would be in 2013.

"I do have a deal done for 2013 and beyond. I'm good there," he told NASCAR.com in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "I do have something together, and really looking forward to it as well. I think it's going to be a great opportunity."

But he added that he wasn't able to publicly reveal what that deal was or who with, or even when he might be able to go public.

"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," he said, suggesting that there were still things on the other side of the deal for his new team to sort out before they make it official.

That reticence gives even more credence to the rumours that Kenseth will end up at Joe Gibbs Racing, and that the JGR team are yet to resolve whether that will be as a brand new fourth car operation or as a replacement for Joey Logano, who comes to the end of his current contract this season.

Team owner Joe Gibbs said this week that he wanted his current line-up of Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to stay with him for a long time if things worked out. "Our goal really is for Joey to be a part of JGR forever," he said.

In the meantime, great opportunity or not, Kenseth has mixed feelings about moving on from the team that has been his home in NASCAR since 1998.

"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," said Kenseth. "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."

But Kenseth wasn't going to be drawn about the specific reasons for his decision to break up such a long-running partnership and move on at this point in his career.

"There's not really a smoking gun, or not one reason," said Kenseth. "There wasn't a fight, there wasn't a blow-up, there wasn't a disagreement. There really wasn't any of that.

"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," he continued. "That's not where we ended up. But I think we both have a pretty good understanding," he said, adding that telling Jack Roush that he was leaving the team was one of the hardest conversations that he had ever had in his life. "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."

Instead, Kenseth said that the decision to jump had just come down to a matter of timing: "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," he said.

"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," he continued. "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."

Kenseth's place in the team will be taken by their young development driver and current Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., although there is no decision yet whether Stenhouse will drive the #17 that's been associated with Kenseth for 14 years or will instead revive the #6 car which the team ran up until the end of last year with David Ragan at the wheel. Stenhouse currently drives the #6 car in the Nationwide championship.

"The number is not something we have put much thought into, but it will be and we'll have a discussion in the coming weeks," said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark.

Roush Fenway also has 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne on their books long-term, leaving Newmark to explain why Stenhouse got the nod for the Cup ride in preference. "Right now the important focus is on getting him into Cup, not that the number is not important."

"Ricky is completing his third full season in Nationwide, and we haven't even run Trevor one full season yet," said Newmark. "The goal for Trevor is to have him do exactly what Ricky is doing right now — run a full-time Nationwide program and challenge for the championship.

"It would be our hope and expectation to have him in that [#6 Nationwide] car next season," he added. And looking further beyond that, "We feel like both of them will be staples in the Cup Series for many years."


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