Matt Kenseth laughs off retirement rumors; says racing in 2018 is ‘always my hope’

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CHARLOTTE – News alert: When Matt Kenseth officially does decide to leave NASCAR, he won’t be sending out an advisory.

He also won’t be holding a news conference similar to Wednesday afternoon’s announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that Circle K will sponsor his No. 20 Toyota in six races this season.

So how would the Joe Gibbs Racing driver handle retirement?

“I probably just wouldn’t show up at Daytona and just everybody say was Matt racing this week? Or I’d send out like a four-word tweet.

“I don’t know if I’d announce it all.”

In other words, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t considered the proposition?

“Not really.”

Kenseth, 45, spent much of Wednesday laughing off the scourge of social media — a clickbait special that spread like wildfire Tuesday night, “reporting” that Kenseth would be stepping aside for a former teammate (we won’t dignify it with further details, but you probably can guess whom).

“I’m just glad I’m still driving tomorrow,” he said. “I wasn’t sure after all the reports on the Internet all weekend. People blowing me up during my Easter vacation, so I appreciate that. Whoever didn’t have anything else to do in their basement this weekend.”

How many more years does the 2003 champion plan to race?

“Fifteen to 20,” he said with typical deadpan. “If Tom Brady can play football at 40 and still win Super Bowls, I think 45 is pretty young to try to win races.”

Still, it’s notable that neither Kenseth nor team owner Joe Gibbs definitively said he would be in the No. 20 in 2018. Kenseth’s future has been the subject of some speculation since Furniture Row Racing announced its signing of Erik Jones last summer with the caveat that it was only for 2017.

Jones remains under contract to JGR beyond this season, though Carl Edwards’ surprise departure has clouded that picture (it was expected Daniel Suarez could slide into Jones’ seat if he returned to Gibbs).

Gibbs said the Circle K deal is multiyear, so does that mean Kenseth will be with the team in 2018?

“I mean, I hope so,” Keneseth said. “That’s always my hope. The details of the sponsorship I mostly don’t know. That would have to come from Coach or somebody there. I don’t know any real details except the races they’re on the car this year.”

Gibbs said that having Kenseth return next year is “certainly what we hope. That’s what we’re working toward” and noted the driver’s renewed interest in long-distance cycling.

“Right now, he’s on that bike all the time now,” Gibbs said of Kenseth. “He’s probably in as good a shape as he has been in his life, and I know he has a burning desire to keep driving. Our hope is he’s with us, and we continue into the future. That’s our game plan.”

The short-term plan is for JGR to improve on a winless 2017. In a NASCAR America interview Wednesday, Kenseth said he couldn’t recall a worse start in his career (22nd in the points standings, three top 10s in seven races). Gibbs said the organization has “isolated five different things we need to work on and improve” (he didn’t identify them).

Aside from struggling, Kenseth also took “the two hardest hits back to back for sure” in his career at Phoenix and Fontana (where he hopes a poor wall angle will be corrected as a result).

“We just haven’t run very well, really,” he said. “Some of that causes some of your problems. Phoenix, we ran really bad and ended up blowing a right-front. California, we ran bad and got wrecked. Some things are circumstances, but if we can run better, that cures a lot of your problems.”

Though JGR has rebounded from slumps in the past (winning 26 of 72 races in 2015-16 after only two wins in 2014), Kenseth said he was concerned by his lack of speed at Martinsville Speedway (where he still finished ninth).

“Martinsville has been one of our strongest tracks on performance since I’ve come to JGR,” he said. “We ran really, really bad the last time there. We ran bad at tracks we historically run good at, which for me is a concern, and really the only time for me that I’m not concerned about it is as soon as we turn it around.”

NASCAR America’s Jarrett, Letarte, Petty recap 2017, make 2018 predictions

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The 2017 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series seasons have only been over for a few days.

And while it’s understandable that on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty reflected back on the recently completed race seasons, they also took a very bold move:

The new season is still three months away, but our analyst team is ALREADY making predictions for 2018.

We don’t want to spoil the surprise or show their hands. If you want to hear how they’re already viewing 2018, click on the video above.

Justin Hartley from NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ on Dale Jr.’s special bond with fans

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Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now officially retired as a NASCAR Cup driver, the special bond between the former driver of the 88 will likely never go away.

Sure, Alex Bowman is replacing Junior in the 88, which will likely pick up some of Junior Nation to cheer for him. Others will gravitate to cheer for other drivers, perhaps youngsters William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and others.

But one thing is for certain: once a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation, ALWAYS a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin on NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us,” is proud to call himself a card carrying member of Junior Nation. In the video above, Hartley shows what it’s like to be a Dale Jr. fan, what the third-generation driver meant to so many people for so many years, and how his legacy will continue on for decades to come.

Check out the video above to see what Junior Nation is all about, as well as thoughts from our NBC analysts, Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Scan All: Miami — the best from the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400

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This week’s Scan All: Miami combined not only regular scanner traffic from team radios during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, but also studio cut-ins of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn talking about their road to the Cup championship.

Here’s some of the best exchanges:

Martin Truex Jr. on coming into the race: “I felt good all weekend, I really did. I was relaxed and knew that no matter what happened, we had a great season and a lot to be proud of and a lot to build upon for the future.”

Truex on his team radio just before the green flag: “We’ve been working a long time to get here. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of you guys and what you’ve done. Thank you for an unbelieveable season. Let’s cap it off tonight.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just before the green flag: “I just want to thank everybody that’s had an impact on my career. I’ve made friendships and relationships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for that.”

Aric Almirola on his last start for Richard Petty Motorsports: “King, if you’re on the air, thanks for that phone call six years ago. It’s been a lot of fun driving this 43 car.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb to Kasey Kahne on his final start with Hendrick Motorsports: “I know it’s an emotional day for everybody. I’m proud to be able to call you teammate and even more proud to be able to continue to call you friend after this, bud.”

Kahne’s reply (while holding back tears): “Thank you guys for everything, man.”

Kahne’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, to Grubb: “Man, you’ve got to make him cry before we go green?”

Cole Pearn on Kyle Larson getting a run: “The 42 is running the wall. He’s hauling ass.”

Clayton Hughes, spotter for Truex: “How about this, Martin Truex Jr., you are the champion, baby!”

Truex in studio cut-in on winning championship: “It was our time. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was our time. Sometimes, things are meant to be.”

Check out the whole Scan All segment in the video above.