Despite the loss of Sprint Cup point leader Matt Kenseth to what team owner Jack Roush called “the dark side,” Roush said Friday his NASCAR team is moving full-speed ahead.
“I have not lost respect for Matt, and I hope he hasn’t for me,” Roush said Friday at Kentucky Speedway. “I won’t have the same sense of wishing for his success on the race track next year that I will for the balance of this year and have in the past. He will from my point of view be moving to the dark side. We will get through that. Personally, we will be fine.”
Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday that Kenseth will be leaving the team at the end of the season and that Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will replace Kenseth in the No. 17 cars. Kenseth has not revealed his plans for 2013 but is widely expected to move to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive for Toyota.
Roush said Kenseth’s unexpected departure was not related to Roush Fenway’s struggle to sign sponsors.
“The determination and decision to run Matt and the 17 and carry on as usual was not dependent on any level of sponsorship,” he said. “If no sponsorship was there at all, which of course is not and would not be the case, we still would have run the 17 car for an indeterminate period of time.
“Matt is a champion, and certainly there has been interest [from sponsors], and we’ve got Fifth Third and Best Buy on board this year and a number of other sponsors that I am not able to mention because the conversations are ongoing for that team that were very interested in Matt. I guess I tend to differ that Matt has been a great challenge to sell sponsorship based on his image. I think the challenges we had were predicated and caused by the economy and the timing.”
Roush said he expects team driver Trevor Bayne to move into a full-time role in Nationwide next season and for Stenhouse to fill Kenseth’s role at the 17 with crew chief Jimmy Fennig and the 17 team regulars.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.