Matt Kenseth Leaving RFR After '12; Lack Of Sponsorship A Possible Reason
Roush Fenway Racing yesterday announced that NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth “will be leaving the organization at the end of the season,” one of the “biggest driver-team moves in recent NASCAR history,” according to Mike Hembree of SPEEDTV.com. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who currently competes on the Nationwide circuit, will “move up to replace Kenseth at the Sprint Cup level next season.” There was “immediate speculation” that Kenseth, who won the Daytona 500 in February, will be joining Joe Gibbs Racing next season. The team did not comment on the rumors. Yesterday’s moves are “stunning” because Kenseth has been with RFR since his rookie season in ‘00 and was “widely expected to finish his career with the team.” Although it “seems odd that Kenseth would decide to leave RFR while leading the Sprint Cup points, the organization has had more than its share of sponsorship problems recently, and that might have played a role in Kenseth’s decision” (SPEEDTV.com, 6/26). USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan notes JGR “hasn‘t committed to Joey Logano for next season but could move Kenseth into Logano’s fully sponsored Toyota next year while trying to find sponsorship for a fourth car to keep Logano.” Since losing Crown Royal as a sponsor after last season, RFR has “struggled to find sponsorship” for Kenseth. A “patchwork of companies covered funding for most of this season, but it should be easier next year with a smaller budget from Stenhouse making a fraction of what Kenseth can command.” Stenhouse “earns low to mid six-figures,” while the price tag for a proven winner “usually starts at a base salary" of $6M annually. Meanwhile, considering that RFR has invested millions of dollars in often running Stenhouse and '11 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne "in unsponsored Nationwide cars ... Tuesday's decision begins to make more sense” (USA TODAY, 6/27).
MONEY TALKS: RFR President Steve Newmark said sponsorship issues “really wasn’t a factor” in Kenseth leaving. Newmark: “It’s more of a reflection of just the way Roush Fenway has built itself and that Jack has always placed an emphasis on driver development and Matt has been the beneficiary of that.” However, ESPN's Dale Jarrett said the move from Kenseth to Stenhouse “is financial” because Stenhouse “is not going to be paid what Matt Kenseth was going to." Jarrett: "You have to believe that money was involved at some point in time here” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 6/26). ESPN.com’s Terry Blount wrote the "sad truth in NASCAR today" is no matter "how good a driver is, even a former champion who leads the standings, it won't save him if he doesn't have a sponsor.” RFR Owner Jack Roush, “with some help from Ford, has been footing the bill out of his own pocket.” That gets “old, and empty, in a hurry at the Cup level,” but this "just looks awful.” Kenseth is a “quiet man, with a surprising dry wit that he shows every now and then, but he's not exactly a walking billboard for potential sponsors.” It may be “easier for the RFR marketing department to sell a handsome, young, single guy like Stenhouse to corporate America than it is a milquetoast old dad like Kenseth” (ESPN.com, 6/26).