Going from being forced to retire to a multi-year deal for a Cup Series ride would be a nifty trick for a 46-year-old driver, but Matt Kenseth may have just pulled it off.
Considering how much success Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing had together, dating back to the time the latter was simply Roush Racing, a reunion between the two just feels right. Kenseth said that himself when his return was announced today, though its unlikely anyone could have predicted the circumstances that made it possible.
A quick review: First, Joe Gibbs Racing essentially forced Kenseth out at the end of the 2017 NASCAR season, announcing that it was turning over the No. 20 Toyota to Erik Jones. It was whispered that sponsorship issues might have had something to do with the decision, but considering Jones still races with many of the same names on the hood, that doesn’t seem to be the case. JGR really just wanted to go younger.
Then, Kenseth didn’t find a full-time seat anywhere else for 2018 either, so even though it was pretty clear he didn’t want to retire, he followed former Roush teammate Greg Biffle into sort of a “welp, guess I’m done” de facto retirement. That might have been the end of this story if Trevor Bayne hadn’t gotten off to the worst start of his Roush Fenway Racing tenure, reversing the progress the No. 6 team appeared to make last season. It’s unfortunate but true that in the NASCAR Cup Series, someone’s good job fortune is often linked to a bad turn for someone else.
Even then, there needed to be a specific set of circumstances in place for RFR to turn to Kenseth. Ryan Reed doesn’t look like he’s ready for Cup Series duty and definitely might not help with the stated goal of making the 6 more competitive right away. But the final piece of the puzzle is the most interesting of all.
Kenseth comes with a new sponsor in tow, and not just that but a brand new sponsor, which are like unicorns in NASCAR these days. The official announcement that Wyndham Rewards signed a multi-year deal with Roush Fenway Racing doesn’t say that it’s contingent on Kenseth remaining behind the wheel, but it sure is an interesting twist.
Neither party is talking about anything beyond 2018. Bayne is reportedly signed through next season, though he could always be bought out if a change is to be made and Kenseth goes full-time. It would be a tough break for the genuinely likable driver who authored one of the greatest modern NASCAR stories ever winning the Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers, but if Kenseth starts turning in top-10 finishes or even wins a race, who could blame the team for making that move?
It’s too early to make predictions for 2019 and there’s a long way to go this year. Given the way the dominoes have fallen, though, it now wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Matt Kenseth driving the No. 6 Wyndham Rewards Ford Mustang the next few seasons, and that’s a phrase this writer never expected to be typing even a few days ago.