Daytona 500 winner and Sprint Cup Series points leader Matt Kenseth will leave the No. 17 Ford at the end of the racing season, the team announced.
Defending Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse will take over for Kenseth in 2013.
Speculation intensified in the past few races that Kenseth would leave Roush and make a likely move to Joe Gibbs Racing. With the exception of a single race where he filled in for Bill Elliott in 1998, Kenseth has spent his entire career – which includes 451 starts, 22 wins and the 2003 series championship – with Roush.
Car owner Jack Roush said despite the change, he will give Kenseth what he needs to win another title.
“The No. 17 is positioned extremely well this season, and I’m committed to providing the team the best resources to continue their run for the 2012 championship,” Roush said. “I have no doubt that Matt will do his part.”
Kenseth vowed to do his part. He posted this statement on Twitter:
“I’m very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he’s given me over the past 14 years. Together we have enjoyed a lot of success.... And as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a 3rd sprint cup title for Jack and RFR. Although I have nothing to announce regarding 2013, I feel the timing of this announcement gives RFR ample time to get things lined up... Darien and Tony proved to us last year there is no such thing as a “lame duck” team or season. We will continue to go to work and race hard.”
A year ago crew chief Darian Grubb was told before the Chase for the Championship started he would not return to Tony Stewart’s race team. Grubb and Stewart still were able to win the championship.
Roush hopes for the same unity at his race team during the second half of the season. Although he leads the current point standings, Kenseth’s team has struggled to find fulltime sponsorship. He’s already started six races this year with Ford EcoBoost on the hood – a deal many believe is really coming from Roush’s pocket.
While Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t talked about its plans, it has several options. Joey Logano will be a free agent at the end of the season so it would be an easy fit for Kenseth. Another possibility is Gibbs expanding to a fourth team.
NEW PLAN: Kentucky Speedway responded to last year’s traffic debacle by adding 170 acres of new parking, new roadways and a new plan by the Kentucky State Police in time for Saturday’s race.
A year ago thousands of fans were stuck on Interstate 71 and never got to the race track for the inaugural race at the 1.5-mile speedway. Since then, track owner Bruton Smith bought additional land and prepared another 150 acres that weren’t used a year ago that can accommodate 20,000 cars. He also worked with state and local officials to widen the interstate off-ramp and expand State Road 35 to seven lanes leading into the track.