|Kenseth won the 2012 Daytona 500 for Roush|
Kenseth, 40, has driven the 17 car for RFR for all but 6 of his 452 Sprint Cup starts and he secured Roush’s first championship in 2003 and followed it up with Daytona 500 victories in 2009 and 2012.
Team owner Jack Roush praised Kenseth, saying "Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade”.
He currently leads the Sprint Cup championship standings and he is adamant that the announcement will not affect his championship charge, drawing inspiration from Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship challenge allied with crew chief Darian Grubb, who was leaving at the end of his 2011 championship year.
“Tony proved to us last year there is no such thing as a 'lame duck' season. We will continue to go to work and race hard" the Wisconsin native stated on Twitter.
Kenseth’s future is currently unresolved. However, like Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger of Penske and Joey Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing are both in the final year of their contracts. It is expected that Kenseth will go to Joe Gibbs Racing, either replacing Logano in the 20 car, or joining a fourth team for the Toyota organisation. The number 17 car has struggled to find full time sponsorship in 2012 after losing primary backer Crown Royal at the end of 2011. That came after losing previous primary sponsor DeWalt at the end of 2009
Kenseth will be replaced at RFR by 2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He currently sits 3rd in the 2012 Nationwide Series standings, 23 points adrift of leader Elliott Sadler. Stenhouse Jr. made his Sprint Cup debut in 2011 at Charlotte deputising for his Nationwide teammate Trevor Bayne in the Wood Brother’s 21 car, finishing a strong 11th place. His move to the Sprint Cup is expected to allow 2011 Daytona 500 winner Bayne to complete in the Nationwide series full time in 2013. Illness and funding constraints have prevented him from doing so in 2011 and 2012.
Like when Tony Stewart left Gibbs and 20, and when Dale Earnhardt Jr. left DEI and his iconic number 8, seeing Kenseth in a car other than the number 17 will be difficult for fans to grasp, but it’s almost certain that he will remain a championship challenger no matter what team he is driving for in 2013.
Picture credit - Sports Illustrated