BRISTOL — Matt Kenseth wouldn’t divulge any future plans on Tuesday, days after announcing his 14th season in the No. 17 Ford for car owner Jack Roush would be their last together.
“We made a deal to race together through 2012,” Kenseth said after taking part in a motorcycle ride from Sevierville to Bristol Motor Speedway with Kyle Petty and military veterans from the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club. “That never got extended to 2013. We will just race as hard as we can together until the end of the season.”
Kenseth, the current leader in the Sprint Cup Series standings, would not address rumors about moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. He was more interested in talking about his season and promoting next month’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kenseth holds a 25-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the current standings. It has been a banner season for the 40-year-old native of Cambridge, Wisc., who started off the season with his second Daytona 500 victory and finished third last Saturday in Daytona’s Coke Zero 400.
“We’ve run really well and have performed good enough to win races, Kenseth said. “All three of the (restrictor) plate races have come down to green-white-checkered (finishes). I thought all three we had a shot to win so that’s a little frustrating. But on the other hand, it’s good to know we have been that strong, especially since we’ve traditionally struggled at those tracks.
“I feel like other tracks if things would have lined up, we would have won. That’s what we are focusing on, making sure we’re not having any bad races.”
So far, Kenseth and his team have done a good job at that. Out of the first 18 races, there has been only one finish outside of the top 20 for Kenseth.
That’s not a total surprise as Kenseth is one of the most consistent drivers on the Sprint Cup tour. He was the last Winston Cup champion in 2003 and was the series’ runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in 2006. In the eight years since the implementation of the ‘Chase for the Championship,’ Kenseth has qualified for the 10-race playoff seven times.
A 22-time winner on the Sprint Cup tour, Kenseth won the final two Bristol night races before the track was resurfaced in 2007.
Kenseth also won three Nationwide races on the old surface.
After the track was resurfaced, Kenseth adapted to the changes. He comes into August’s race with six straight top-10 finishes at Bristol, including a runner-up finish to Brad Keselowski at the Food City 500 in March.
“I thought the track was OK the way it was,” said Kenseth about recent changes to the track surface. “I liked the old surface the best before they tore it, I will say that. But with the car change, that changed the racing a fair amount.
“I think with this particular car, you’re much better off with a two-groove track than a one-groove track. With this car, you can run in the back of someone and he’s not going to spin out most of the time. If you had the old track with this car, the racing wouldn’t be like it was with the old cars.”
He further expounded on how the racing might change in August. BMS owner Bruton Smith ordered the track surface to be ground down following the a survey among race fans, of whom a majority didn’t like the post-2007 track surface.
“I’m not sure exactly how it will change,” he said. “But, you do know with less room to race, people will become more impatient and more aggressive. It’s hard to make everybody happy.”
For now, Kenseth is trying to keep himself and the race team happy as they battle for a championship knowing this will be their last season together. He’s glad the announcement he’s leaving has been made, and was apologetic about not being able to announce future plans.
“I’m just answering the questions I can answer,” he said. “Honestly, since I talked to the team and Roush put the release out there that I’m not going to be back in 2013, it’s almost a relief in a way. The last 2-3 months have been stressful being in limbo, not sure what I’m going to do. With all that being out there, it’s a relief to concentrate on this season.
“We made a commitment to race through 2012, and that’s not going to change since I’m not going to be there in 2013. The goal is to win races and the championship and none of that has changed.”