CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR points leader Matt Kenseth is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be promoted to his seat in the Sprint Cup Series.
There was widespread speculation last weekend at Sonoma that Kenseth was leaving to join Joe Gibbs Racing, but Kenseth declined before Sunday’s race to discuss his future with the organization he has been with for all but one of his 452 career starts.
Roush announced Tuesday that Kenseth is moving on at the end of the year, without disclosing a reason.
“I’d like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service,” team co-owner Jack Roush said in a statement. “Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade, and we are extremely appreciative of his accomplishments and contributions to the team, and will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family.”
It appears Kenseth is headed to JGR for either Joey Logano’s seat in the No. 20 Toyota, or a fourth car. Team president J.D. Gibbs did not respond to a request for a comment Tuesday morning, and said at Sonoma he could not talk about Kenseth.
Either way, it will be a tremendous change for Kenseth, who has been in the No. 17 Ford his entire career. Kenseth has won 22 Cup races, including two Daytona 500s, and the 2003 championship driving for Roush. In the Nationwide Series, Kenseth has won 26 races driving for Roush.
His relationship with owner Jack Roush and current general manager Robbie Reiser dates to 1997, when Kenseth first drove Reiser’s No. 17 entry. Reiser then became Kenseth’s crew chief at Roush in 2000, Kenseth’s rookie season.
“Matt and I broke into this sport together, learned the ropes and were able to bring home a championship,” said Reiser. “Over the 20 years we have worked with each other, Matt has been a fierce competitor and become a close friend, not only for me, but as a mentor to young drivers like Ricky. I wish Matt nothing but the best for the next phase of his career, and know that we’ll remain close.”
Kenseth’s car has had sponsorship woes the last few years, and Roush is funding a large portion of this year’s schedule himself for the 40-year-old Kenseth. The organization dropped David Ragan and its fourth team because of a lack of sponsorship at the end of last season, and also ponied up significant money to re-sign Carl Edwards last season. Roush also signed Greg Biffle to a contract extension last season.
But the team desperately needs a slot for the 24-year-old Stenhouse, who is locked into a long-term contract but has nowhere to go in Roush’s Cup lineup. The organization has a similar problem with 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who is also in a long-term contract and had his Nationwide Series team shuttered earlier this season because of no funding.
Although Stenhouse will be far cheaper than Kenseth in terms of salary, no reason was given for the split.
“We feel that he is not only a key piece of our team’s future, but a key piece of the future of the sport,” Roush said of Stenhouse. “Roush Fenway is an organization with a wonderful past and present, as well as an extremely promising future, and I can’t think of a better candidate than Ricky to usher in the next era of success for the team.”