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.”

Dale Jr’s priorities shifted last season while away from track (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is unsure how the rest of his life will look now that he’s made the decision to retire.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Greg Biffle and Kyle Petty discussed how Junior’s time away last season prepared him for his retirement decision.

Sponsor expanding its partnership with Danica Patrick’s team

Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing
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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Code 3 Associates will partner with One Cure initiative for three races on Danica Patrick‘s car this season and that Code 3 Associates will add another race on Patrick’s car.

Code 3 Associates is using its partnership with One Cure, a project led by the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, will be on Patrick’s car at Kansas Speedway (May 13), the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 20) on All-Star weekend and Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Code 3 Associates will serve as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s car June 25 at Sonoma Raceway.

“We need a new way to find potential cures for cancer, and pets may provide the answer,” said Dr. Rodney Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “Cancer is cancer, so what is learned in pets being treated for cancer holds promise to benefit people and vice versa. This approach is known as comparative or translational oncology, and it is the core of the One Cure concept. This partnership helps educate more people about comparative oncology and improves the lives of all cancer patients, whether they have two legs or four.”

“Code 3 Associates has championed animal welfare for more than 25 years, and One Cure allows us to take what’s learned from treating animals that are fighting cancer to people who are fighting the same battle,” added Nan Stuart, founder, Code 3 Associates. “Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing have been strong advocates for animal welfare and this extension of our partnership with them helps more people understand and appreciate One Cure’s mission.”

The car for Kansas will feature the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie on it. The movie debuts June 2.

 

NASCAR America live at 6 pm on NBCSN: Exclusive Dale Jr. interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, along with Kyle Petty and Greg Biffle.

Here’s what’s on today’s show:

* We continue to follow up on Tuesday’s major announcement of Dale Earnhardt’s retirement at the end of this season. One of the biggest elements of today’s show is the exclusive interview our Marty Snider had with Junior. Check out the video above for some of that interview.

 Which drivers in the Cup Series’ current crop of young talent could ultimately replace Earnhardt as the face of the sport?

* Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler also joins the show to share his reaction to yesterday’s news. Sadler joined JR Motorsports last season, but his friendship with the Earnhardt family goes back much farther.

* The next stop on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows tour of the USA is The Bay State: Massachusetts. This state has seen major success recently with its Boston pro sports teams, and it’s also home to one of New England’s premier short tracks, Seekonk Speedway.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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