Friday, June 29, 2012

Kenseth's season "stressful" while Roush "surprised" by driver's exit

Matt Kenseth shakes hands with team owner Jack Roush after winning
at Dover last May. Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
While Matt Kenseth was having a “stressful season," his longtime team owner Jack Roush was “surprised” to learn his championship-winning driver would not return after this season.

Roush Fenway announced Tuesday that Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion and current points leader, would part ways with the organization after 15 years together.

Kenseth has said he has a deal in place for 2013 and beyond, but can’t reveal yet where he’ll land. Speculation puts Kenseth with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The No. 17 Ford team has struggled to find sponsorship for the last few seasons, leaving many to wonder if the lack of stability played into Kenseth’s decision to look outside Roush Fenway. 

Kenseth admitted Friday at Kentucky Speedway that the search for sponsors had taken a toll on him.

“Yeah, it has been kind of a stressful season to be honest with you - really all off season from leading into last off season and the sponsorship search and all that,” said Kenseth, who started the year with a Daytona 500 win. “That was relieved a little bit by signing Best Buy and Fifth Third and some of these people and starting to fill a car up."

“Getting to this point in the season, it was definitely somewhat stressful not knowing 100 percent sure what I was going to do. It all ended up I guess coming together pretty quickly,” he said.

Without offering details, Kenseth affirmed his decision to leave the team where he’s spent his entire Sprint Cup career.

“I really felt and feel like it is absolutely the right thing to do and the right place for me next year and for my future as well,” he said. “It is kind of hard to explain, but a lot of things pointed and pulled me in that direction. A lot of things happened or didn’t happen that led to that.”

As to what those things are, even Roush himself isn’t sure. The team owner said Friday he was shocked by Kenseth’s decision.

“I will say that I was as surprised as most of you must have been when I learned that he would not be signing with us to go forward. It was a surprise and I had no idea that we were at that point,” Roush said.

While Kenseth said he worried about the unknown, Roush said in his mind the search for funding never put Kenseth’s place with the organization in jeopardy.
   
“Certainly there was not a sponsorship reason why Matt’s future with Roush Fenway was in doubt, before or during negotiations,” Roush said. “There was no predisposition that we were limited to what we would do with Matt going forward based on the sponsorships that were there. We’ve been very much encouraged and had encouraging conversations with all the sponsors around the 17 team and the other programs we have sought sponsorships for.”

Kenseth and Roush’s differing views on the sponsorship situation reveal a disconnect between driver and team owner.

Furthermore, Roush admitted he’s not as involved in money matters as he is in the technical side of the sport. Had he been more aware, he believes he may have been able to address Kenseth’s concerns and re-sign the driver.

“If I had been as vigilant and diligent and interested in that side of the business as I am on finding why a fuel pump broke or why a connection rod bearing failed or how we could get the next pound of downforce – if I had been taking care of the business side of the business as hard as I tried to take care of the technical side, I might have been able to stop that,” Roush said.

Adding to the Kenseth-to-JGR rumors, Roush said Friday that Kenseth is now joining the “dark side.”

“I won’t have the same sense of wishing for his success on the race track next year that I will for the balance of this year and have in the past, he will from my point of view be moving to the dark side,” Roush said.

The team owner has repeatedly referred to the Japanese manufacturer, which backs Joe Gibbs Racing, as the “dark side.”

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