NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series silly season found a new gear today when Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth said he'd be leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the close of the 2012 season; the team intends to run three Sprint Cup and one Nationwide Series car in the 2013 campaign.
Kenseth is driving the No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion for RFR and is first in the point standings after last weekend's road course race at Sonoma; teammate Greg Biffle lies second and Dale Earnhardt Jr is third.
Kenseth spent all but one of his 452 career Sprint Cup starts with RFR and earning the 2003 Sprint Cup championship, winning 22 Cup races, two Daytona 500's including this year's and 26 Nationwide races, also driving for team co-owner Jack Roush.
"I'd like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service," Roush's statement said. "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. We will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family."
Kenseth's RFR contract was up at the end of the 2012 campaign. His relationship with Roush and Robbie Reiser, currently RFR general manager dates back to 1997, when he first drove Reiser's No. 17 entry. Reiser was Kenseth's crew chief in his rookie season with Roush in 2000. The issue of sponsorship has dogged the No. 17 and Roush has funded a good deal of the 2012 season for Kenseth. RFR dropped its fourth car at the end of 2011 and spent quite a bit of money last year re-signing Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle to contract extensions.
Ford Racing director Jamie Allison had this to say:"All of us at Ford are certainly disappointed to hear that Matt will be leaving; he will certainly be missed by us and the Ford Racing fans. We are thankful for Matt's winning efforts and championship-caliber success these past 16 years, both on and off the track. We will focus on this year and look forward to more success on the track," he said.
The jettisoning of Kenseth opens the door for Ricky Stenhouse Jr, 24, who is already locked into a long-term Roush contract but has nowhere to go in the team's Cup lineup. "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 about Stenhouse. I can't think of a better candidate than Ricky to user in the next era of success for the team."
As is customary, the Twitter universe has Kenseth going to many different teams--including Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. There aren't that many Kenseth-worthy seats around in the Cup garage. But don't think Kenseth is being morose about the change; he noted, "Darien [Grubb] and Tony [Stewart] proved us last year there is no such thing as a 'lame duck' team or season. We will continue to go to work and race hard."