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?
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.”