SPARTA, Ky. – Team owner Joe Gibbs was tight-lipped Saturday when asked about the status of Matt Kenseth, who said Friday he wouldn’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.
“Right now there’s quite a bit up in the air, and I don’t think there’s anything we can say that’s solid or done,” Gibbs said before the Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. “At least I guess what I’m saying is we’ll probably come up with something in the near future. We’ll probably come up with something. Right now it’s still for us, we’re not in a situation where we can say this is what we’re doing.”
Asked if he could confirm that Kenseth’s assertion that he would be leaving the team, Gibbs said, “Matt’s statement kind of stands on its own. We love Matt. So, I think right now is kind of a tough time for everybody. We’re kind of working through some stuff.”
The replacement for Kenseth is almost certainly Erik Jones, who is on loan to Furniture Row Racing on a one-year deal but seems to be slotted into Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota for the 2018 season.
In a Friday night interview with SiriusXM NASCAR channel host Claire B. Lang, Kyle Busch intimated that the move to replace Kenseth with Jones was predicated on sponsorship.
Kenseth’s car hasn’t been fully funded since losing Dollar General after last season, and Busch said Jones would bring funding to shore up the car’s finances.
Gibbs deflected questions about whether Jones was an option.
“We love Erik; Toyota loves Erik,” he said. “Right now our situation is we need to wind up with exactly what we’re doing and come out and tell everybody as soon as we do.”
At a sponsorship announcement in late April when Kenseth laughed off rumors he was retiring, Gibbs said that having Kenseth return next year is “certainly what we hope. That’s what we’re working toward. … 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.”