Kenseth Heading to GIBBS in 2013

Kenseth Heading to GIBBS in 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Matt Kenseth will leave Roush Fenway Racing and will be replaced by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The move, announced Tuesday at Roush Fenway Racing, paves the way for Kenseth to join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Sources indicated that a deal is close with JGR, which could use Kenseth to replace Joey Logano, whose contract is up at the end of this year, or start a fourth team for him.

While a JGR spokesman declined to comment on the issue, Ford’s racing director Jamie Allison indicated that Kenseth would not drive a Ford in 2013. There had been some speculation Kenseth could go to Penske Racing, which is switching from Dodge to Ford next season.

“All of us at Ford are certainly disappointed to hear that Matt will be leaving, and he will be certainly missed by us and the Ford Racing fans,” Allison said in a statement.

“We are thankful for Matt’s winning efforts and championship-caliber success with the Roush and Ford racing programs.”

The 40-year-old Kenseth has driven for team co-owner Jack Roush since entering Cup full time in 2000. The winner of the Daytona 500 in 2009 as well as 2012, Kenseth has 22 career victories—tied from 29th all-time—in addition to the 2003 Cup title.

“I’d like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service,” 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.

“We’re fortunate that we were able to tap into Matt’s potential and bring him on board many years ago, and I’m proud that together we were able to combine the tools and the resources of Roush Fenway with his talent and determination to forge a partnership that yielded a championship at the Cup level and all of his 22 Cup victories.”

Kenseth leads the Cup standings 16 races into the season, as he holds an 11-point edge on Greg Biffle and a 14-point edge on Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I’m very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he’s given me over the past 14 years,” Kenseth said via Twitter. “Together we have enjoyed a lot of success, and as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a third Sprint Cup title for Jack and RFR.

“Although I have nothing to announce regarding 2013, I feel the timing of this announcement gives RFR ample time to get things lined up.”

Kenseth has 452 career Cup starts, all for Roush except or his Cup debut in September 1998 at Dover when he finished sixth in a car for owner/driver Bill Elliott so Elliott could attend his father’s funeral.

If Joe Gibbs signs Matt Kenseth for the 2013 season, it’s not clear whether he’ll put Kenseth in a fourth car or have him replace Joey Logano in the No. 20. (AP Photo)

Last month, both Roush and Kenseth indicated they hoped to get a deal done to extend Kenseth’s contract beyond 2012.

But the team, which lost Kenseth’s sponsorship from Irwin tools and Crown Royal in recent years, did not have sponsorship for him for next season. This year, it has had a little more than half the season sponsored by Best Buy (sponsoring nine races for Kenseth in 2012), Fifth Third Bank (four) and Zest (four) with additional races having been picked up by Valvoline and Ford along the way.

Replacing Kenseth with Stenhouse, who has two career Cup starts, obviously is a cheaper option for Roush Fenway.

Stenhouse, 24, won the 2011 Nationwide Series title.

“Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has more than proved his abilities on the racetrack,” Roush said. “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 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.”

Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said in a phone interview Tuesday that “it’s fair to say when we came into this year, our hope was we could orchestrate something where Matt could retire at Roush Fenway,” but declined to get into specifics on why talks for a contract extension for Kenseth broke down or why the team didn’t elevate Stenhouse into a fourth Cup car for the organization.

“This is a bittersweet moment for Roush Fenway,” Newmark said. “On the one hand, it’s the end of an incredible run between Jack and Matt. On the other hand, Ricky’s ready and we’re thrilled to elevate him to the Cup level, which is what he’s earned and where he belongs.”

Newmark said Roush Fenway’s likely 2013 scenario would be for the organization to have three Cup teams with Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Stenhouse while Trevor Bayne, who currently runs a part-time Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing and select Nationwide races for Roush Fenway, would replace Stenhouse in the team’s full-time Nationwide car.

“I don’t think I would view this as a ‘salary cap’ issue,” Newmark said. “I do view this as this is part of the way that Roush Fenway operates and it’s kind of in our DNA—we have always put a time and effort into driver development programs.

“When you do that and you don’t rely on the free agent market, you have a natural progression where you get to the place where you need to elevate those drivers.”

Whether current Kenseth crew chief Jimmy Fennig will be Stenhouse’s crew chief is still to be determined, Newmark said.