The Big Question: What Will Matt Kenseth’s Future Look Like?
By Matteo Marcheschi
After it was announced on Tuesday, July 11 that Erik Jones would replace Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kenseth was left without a ride. Kenseth is in a relatively good place, since this silly season has left several big-time rides open, including the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 car, (possibly) the Hendrick No. 5, as well as one or two Stewart-Haas Racing cars. However, the only car that’s truly guaranteed to be open for 2018 is the No. 88, so Kenseth may be in a compromising position if he doesn’t get that ride. He has said he isn’t ready to retire, but if he isn’t able to grab another top-tier ride, is it worth it to keep driving, even with a team that might not be at the level of Hendrick or Gibbs?
Let’s say Kenseth isn’t able to get a top-of-the-line ride, but the No. 13 Germain Racing ride or the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports car is available. Should he take the chance? It all depends on what he wants his legacy to be. He has the opportunity to make a small team better, but there’s a chance he runs just as the team would without him. It’s a pretty significant risk, considering this will be a part of how he will remembered. Obviously his legacy will be his 2003 championship and his Daytona 500 victories, but the waning years in a driver’s career can also be pretty significant.
Of course, it really doesn’t seem like Kenseth cares a bit about his legacy. During a press conference several days before the Erik Jones announcement, Kenseth expressed his continued determination to race: “I think I got some wins left in me, and hopefully I can race for championships.” Kenseth admitted that he wouldn’t be back at Gibbs, but insisted that, despite being 45 years old, he wasn’t ready to retire. A NASCAR champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner should certainly have the right to go out on his own terms. Kenseth seems like he wants to pull a Mark Martin, at least to some degree. Martin raced until 2014, when he was 54 years old. While Kenseth may not race that long, he’s obviously not content hanging up the helmet just yet.
Kenseth’s unwillingness to retire seems like an aberration compared to some of the drivers who have stepped out of the sport recently, such as Carl Edwards (36 years old in his final season), Tony Stewart (45), Jeff Gordon (43 in his last full season), Greg Biffle (46), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (42). While most big names seem to be ready to step aside around Kenseth’s age, he is not. He is the oldest full-time driver in the Cup Series, so it was inevitable that he would be replaced by a younger driver, especially with how prolific JGR’s driver development program has been.
In short, then, Kenseth shouldn’t retire. He wants to keep racing, and, as a 38-time winner in the Cup Series, he should be able to. Whatever ride he gets in, there seems to be no fear from Kenseth of ruining his legacy or anything of the sort. He just wants to race, no matter the ride.