DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle often fly together to races. As teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, they also spend a lot of time together at the race track and in the motorhome compound.
But like everyone else, Biffle was caught off guard by Kenseth’s stunning announcement he was leaving the team at the end of the season.
Kenseth’s decision in the middle of the season isn’t new in NASCAR. But what does make his move so surprising is it’s not based on performance. In fact, he leads the Sprint Cup Series point standings heading into Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
What Kenseth wanted more than anything else was the stability that comes with long-term sponsorship.
Kenseth has 19 races remaining before he goes to a new team – presumably Joe Gibbs Racing. He opened the year by winning the Daytona 500 and he’s 11 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the season approaches the halfway point. Despite his success, he will face one question for the rest of the year: Will his lame duck status cost him a championship?
“I think the biggest challenge is all the outside distractions,” Kenseth said. “It doesn’t matter what is going on around us and what people are saying and all that. That is difficult, especially if you haven’t been in that spot.
“We have to make sure we keep our eye on the ball.”
A year ago Tony Stewart told crew chief Darian Grubb he would be fired at the end of the season.
The two went on to win the championship with five victories in the Chase for the Championship.
Stewart and Grubb found success in the final two months despite their complicated relationship because both quietly worked to prove to the other they were a bigger part of the team’s success.
“Sometimes it makes them better because everybody wants to prove everybody else is wrong,” Kevin Harvick said.
Roush had limited deals with a couple of companies for Kenseth, but the car didn’t have any funding for nearly half the races this year.
“It has been kind of a stressful season to be honest with you – really all of last season from leading into last off-season and the sponsorship search and all that,” Kenseth said.
“A lot of things happened, or didn’t happen, that led to that. It is only a distraction if we let it. I think that is totally up to me and the race team how we handle this going forward.”