Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t believe Matt Kenseth will be left without a ride next year.
A few hours after Kenseth said he didn’t have a seat for the 2018 season and didn’t expect to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt said: “Matt is going to have a job.
“I don’t think he’s got to worry about that. I think it’s smart for him to let everybody know early what his plans are or lack thereof. He’s a talented guy who is just a couple of races removed from being a winner and could show up any week and get it to victory lane.’’
Earnhardt’s No. 88 ride is open next season at Hendrick Motorsports with the 14-time most popular driving retiring from full-time racing.
One of many theories about the No. 88 car is that Kenseth could move into that seat on a short-term basis before giving way to William Byron, the 19-year-old rookie for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
Earnhardt didn’t directly address the notion of Kenseth taking over his car. Instead, Earnhardt talked about his confusion why Kenseth wouldn’t have a ride set.
“I think that the situation with Gibbs, looking from an outsider looking in, there’s just not enough room,’’ said Earnhardt, who has been friends with Kenseth since racing for Xfinity titles in the late 1990s. “(Erik) Jones is probably going to come in there and take that ride or there was an agreement beforehand possibly that that was what was going to happen. I don’t know why they couldn’t move Matt over to the 77 (Jones’ ride this season) or whatever the plan is there.
“Matt will get a job. He’s so good and so talented that he’ll be a in great car with a great opportunity next year, no less than what he has this year.’’
Asked about taking over Earnhardt’s ride next season, Kenseth said: “I probably already said too much about what I’m not doing next year, so I don’t really have anything to talk about for what I am doing.’’
Kenseth’s contract at Joe Gibbs Racing expires after this season. Jones, who has a one-year contract at Furniture Row Racing, is viewed as the logical choice to replace Kenseth.
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez are under contract at JGR, leaving no other openings. Joe Gibbs Racing is not scheduled to announce any plans this weekend for next season.
Kenseth is winless this season — as are his JGR teammates. If the playoffs started today, Kenseth would have the last spot. He has a three-point lead on Joey Logano for the final playoff spot.
Kenseth admitted that this season has not gone the way he hoped.
“We just had a lot of things go wrong,’’ said Kenseth, who has placed 20th or worse in seven of 17 races this year.
“Our performance hasn’t been as good as it needs to be either, but as far as how bad the finishes are and how many DNFs (four) we have and everything, I mean that’s a lot of circumstances and execution and being in the right place and that type of thing.”