LOUDON, N.H. – In the wake of the news he won’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth had a busy week – which didn’t involve fretting about his NASCAR future.
Kenseth spent his week hanging in Wisconsin with childhood friends from his hometown of Cambridge, traveling to Detroit to take in a Metallica concert Tuesday at Comerica Park. Though he read Tuesday’s release from JGR announcing Erik Jones as his replacement in the No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth said he mostly had been disconnected and had “nothing new to report there at the moment” when asked if he’d been contacted by prospective teams.
“I hope to race next year,” he said Friday before practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I still enjoy racing. I still feel like I could be an asset to somebody, so I hope so.”
The 2003 champion, said he had “a pretty good indication” about his impending departure from Gibbs for “about the last 12 or 13 months.” He said there was no firm timetable for finding a ride after breaking the news he didn’t have anything for 2018 last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
“I probably have some personal cutoff times, maybe to some point,” he said. “But not really. It’s only July. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m really not that concerned about it. I’m OK. Everything’s fine.
“I’m just glad they finally put it out so you don’t have to pretend anymore. Everyone asked Erik about it last week, and it was, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Nobody’s told me.’ It’s just better to get it over with, get it done. Everybody can ask you about it, everybody can move on and get back to racing.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicted last week that Kenseth would land another ride, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed that sentiment this morning. Hendrick’s No. 88 Chevrolet, which is being vacated by Earnhardt, would seem among the best options for Kenseth.
“I don’t think he’ll be left out in the cold,” Johnson said Friday. “I know Junior had a similar response last week. Matt’s just too good. The guy can win races and win championships, and that won’t be overlooked, but I do feel like Matt’s at a point in his career where he’s not going to take just any ride.”
With indications that JGR’s choice of Jones was sponsorship-driven, Kenseth said he wasn’t taking the move personally.
“It’s a business,” he said. “They’ve got their reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it necessarily or agree with it. But yet I’m not the most subjective person because we’re talking about me. It’s been great.”
Kenseth joined Gibbs in 2013, winning a series-high seven races in his first season with the team. He has notched seven more victories in the past three seasons (though none this year).
“When I first went there we had a two-year deal,” he said. “We definitely fulfilled that. I felt like we got the 20 car back to winning again, and be a contender, which it wasn’t for four or five years. We won a whole bunch of races.
“We got two different sponsors to come and renew and be real good sponsors. We got Dewalt to come back there, which Erik will benefit from the next couple of years. Got (Dollar General) to renew that first time and stuff. I feel like we did a lot of great things. I feel like I helped them do what they were trying to accomplish with the car. At the same time, it was a great opportunity for me to go try something different where I was at in my career. I don’t think there’s anything to be bitter about or feel bad about. We’re both living up to the agreements we made.”
Kenseth isn’t expecting his team to be affected by the news, either, which might have been indicative of why he spent the week seeing his favorite band for the first time in 10 years.
“I actually had an incredibly fun week,” said Kenseth, who named one of his cats after Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “(The concert) actually made me feel 20 again for about four hours, which was pretty fun. I could still hear when I got home, so that was good.”