News Analysis: Matt Kenseth will step away from NASCAR after this season

What happened: Matt Kenseth, in an interview with NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan, acknowledged what has seemed increasingly apparent over the last few months — that he will not race in NASCAR next season, and perhaps never again. Kenseth said there were no good opportunities to race in the Cup Series in 2018 and though he was open to a return, he didn’t “really feel it’s in the cards.” (He said a lot more than that, so you should read the interview — linked above — if you haven’t.)

What it meansThis appears to be the unsatisfying end of the road for a future Hall of Fame driver and another big blow to NASCAR. The Cup Series will now have lost Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth all within a span of three years. It’s an entire generation of star power leaving all at once.

News value (scale of 1-10): Eight. Even though people knew Kenseth was probably going to be the odd man out in Silly Season, it’s still jarring to realize this could be the end. But it’s also a relief, because now Kenseth can be celebrated for the next two weeks and his fans will have at least a brief chance to say goodbye. Although Kenseth is understated and probably doesn’t care much for recognition, it would have been sad for him to step out of the car for the final time at Homestead and just walk away without any fanfare.

Three questions: Can the NASCAR industry scramble to pay proper respect to the 2003 Cup champ in the next few weeks? Will we see Kenseth back behind the wheel at some point, or is this really it? How crazy have the economics of the sport gotten when an elite driver who can still win races can’t get a top ride for next season?

37 Replies to “News Analysis: Matt Kenseth will step away from NASCAR after this season”

  1. This is too bad. I’ve not been a fan (nor detractor) of Matt, but I think his departure from the cup series is evidence of continued movement, of NASCAR, away from it’s historical norms. It seems that we will soon be calling 35+ year old drivers old, as other major sports due to their athletes. NASCAR is clearly moving toward youth in its competitors.

    1. Yeah I agree, not a Kenneth fan or hater but I hate to see him go like this. He can still win races and is an important driver in 21st century NASCAR history and this is what he gets? I’m not out to bash the young drivers but I don’t like the 17/18 year old rich kids pushing everyone else who’s earn it out. I respect guy’s like Matt who worked there way up from the short tracks, we can’t lose that tradition.

      1. Ugh. Kenseth is still a championship driver and it boggles my mind that he won’t be with Nascar next year. Hell, even with Nascar switching to a playoff system that punished Kenseth’s consistency, he was still almost always in the championship race.

        Speaking of championships, did you know Jeff Gordon got royally screwed by the Chase format? It would have been him tied at 7 for all-time championships instead of Jimmie Johnson.

  2. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  3. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth… all great drivers, but one other important thing in common… exceptionally classy people. Of the five, I think only Jeff got booed and that was for his dominance too early in his career. Best to you Matt… just kick back with your old teammate and sometimes buddy, Carl, and enjoy life.

    1. Stewart was classy at the end, I’ll give you that. But the next gen ain’t bad: Elliott, Blaney, Byron, Bubba, Almirola, Bayne, Larson, Jones.

  4. I think if I hear more of the “good for the sport” blather from all of the media and non- fans of the sport I’m going to barf. Who in the US is making enough money to attend races and purchase the costly merchandise because they are great fans of some 18 year old who really hasn’t paid some dues? I’m not going to spend hard earned money cheering for a bunch of high schoolers. All of the diversity, gender and youth angles make me think of two things: short sighted desperation to make a dollar and satisfaction for the folks who believe in participation trophies. Kenseth being passed over is a travesty. It almost makes you want to see Nascar fail longterm and I feel that many are starting to think that way.

    1. Agreed. Kenseth was best known for his consistency on track and getting a great result without tearing up the owner’s cars. You would think there is an owner who would see that as money in the bank, but times have changed for NASCAR and sponsorship money is getting hard to come by. When you run a series like Brian France has, you deserve the results we are now seeing. I plan no more expensive trips to the track and I will swear off of watching races on TV, which is where I believe most of NASCAR’s problems originate. The stage racing is just TV talk for two mandatory debris cautions for 5-10 more laps of commercial air time. Kenseth was my driver and I will miss watching him and I hope NASCAR goes belly up.

  5. I’d care a lot more if this was a couple years ago, before that stunt he pulled at Martinsville. Just furthers my opinion that everyone who drives for Joe Gibbs will, eventually, turn into (insert your bad word of choice here). Glad Carl got out when he did, and I hope Suarez can do the same before he gets swallowed up by the Dark Side.

    1. Agree 100% with the Martinsville comment. That revealed a ton of negative character in Matt the way it went down. Funny how often quiet and conservative appearing people are misread as such nice guys until something big reveals what’s really inside. Unfortunately, I feel it was very similar to when Carl Edwards violently retaliated against Brad K. years ago. Both instances were after the fact and far beyond the ‘heat of the moment’.

    2. Get over it, Jeff. Logano richly deserved that payback “stunt” at the safest payback “stunt” track on the circuit. At least Logano didn’t get wrecked at 200 mph like he did to Matt a couple of weeks earlier. Payback happens all the time in NASCAR. Logano has learned a lot from the “stunt” since then.

  6. Well I have to say I am a fan of Matt Kenneth! He’s a driver in my opinion that is still capable of going out & winning races & contending for a championship! I do understand that in today’s Nascar, sponsors are looking to fill the drivers seat with younger drivers & so that does leave guys like Matt Kenneth on the outside looking in if they happen to have a bad season or two! However make no mistake about it, I’m sure Matt Kenneth isn’t sitting home whinny about his situation, he’s had a great career in Nascar & I’m sure if this is truly “ it” for Matt Kenneth he’s going to be just fine in retirement & have plenty to keep him busy! In closing, I would just like to add, that many times we as fans think that it’s a bad thing that these drivers we grew up watching race each week walk away from the sport that they love! However, let’s be thankful that the drivers have that option! Thanks Matt Kenneth for all the great races! Good luck to you !

  7. I’ve never been a big Kenseth fan but I’ve always respected him. I think it is very sad that he doesn’t get the attention and praise that he deserves. This is just one more proof of that. He is the 3rd winningest active driver with 38 wins. He was a rookie of the year and has won a championship. But he gets shoved aside for drivers who are louder or more controversial. You can forget the idea that NASCAR is all about family. It is about who can make me the most money – just like all other businesses. Just like when Hendrick dumped Kyle Busch for Jr. He didn’t do it to get a better driver. He did it cause he could make more money off Jr. Apparently, Gibbs thinks he can make more money off Eric – so Kenseth gets dumped. It’s sad. I wish Kenseth only the best. Hope this turns out to be a good move for him.

  8. Does the feeling the first two commenters have play in to Kenseth’s demise as a full time Cup driver? Neither hot nor cold feelings maybe indicate a similar feeling from sponsors? Sponsors drive the sport, and if Kenseth has no real needle moving power via social media or in terms of marketing, well then I get it. Personalities attract sponsors, marketability attracts sponsors, and obviously, if you are young and possess those things and can drive (win), well, there you go.

    I think Kenseth is talented and can still get it done, but he may as well have been invisible this season. I cannot recall anytime that he was newsworthy on track or off it this year except for now.

    1. Truth. I’m a Kenseth fan who saw the writing on the wall last summer when Barney Visser let it slip that Jones was a one-year deal at Furniture Row along with DeWalt being involved with Jones in Xfinity, but it’s very obvious that while he’s been very successful in his career he does not have the flash that other drivers do. Just look at the NASCAR stuff sold mass retail. Rarely find anything with Kenseth on it. Quietly though, Kenseth is probably the funniest guy in the garage area.

      Unfortunately, nobody wants to spend millions of dollars on who would be the oldest full time driver in the series for a year or two before he retires.

    2. Because his last newsworthy move got ridiculously punished by NASCAR and trashed by a stupid bunch of TV announcers. How dare he wreck the fair haired boy who gives the glib interviews. But I certainly see your point and that is why I am not going to watch the racing version of WWF any more.

  9. ….and they wonder I why I DIDN’T RENEW my tickets to Daytona. Although the main reason why I didn’t was Dale Jr’s retirement, I hate seeing a great driver like Matt be forced out of NASCAR’s Premier series like this….(I’m NOT going to spend $400+ for seats at a race where there is no one that I am emotionally involved in rooting for…)

    He had his fan base. Where might they go after this? Just on more nail in the coffin guys…

    1. Your comments sound like I could have written them. This is the first year- 2018- since 2003 we won’t be at the Daytona 500. Mainly because of Junior but I don’t really like the new kids because I don’t really know them. They need to be more personable and create their fans but they don’t. I will still watch and Truex is my go to driver now. I hope the Busch brothers are the next to exit the sport.

      1. @ Colleen….

        You would have thought they would lower the price at least on the tickets as well. (its a DIMINISHED product) But instead my ticket price was RAISED……

        At least the telemarketer that called me (YES! They have actually stooped to TELEMARKETING ticket sales) acknowledged that a LOT of fans are not renewing for the SAME REASON! …

        THAT and the stupidity that is known as “stage racing”…

      2. The unfortunate aspect of hiring a lot of Daddy’s/Granddaddy’s boys who haven’t earned their ride? No fans – or worse, less fans, i.e. Dillions – who have had any chance to invest before they became very expensive to root for and see.

        Byron has yet to spend more than a single year in any series. Chase (two weeks ago) was a disappointment when it came to sales (comparatively, mind you, to the brouhaha of getting such a number that he’s now abandoning after milking all his fans for the 24 gear, so he can re-milk the same smaller base for #9 gear). Dillons were shoved in, and they are taking the place of the Busch brothers, especially as Kyle has mellowed and matured since becoming a dad.

        The legends have left, and we have a bunch of spoiled kids, who’ve never had to work for anything. Who the hell gets excited over that?

  10. I think this trend highlights the real issue: money. Teams can hire a new guy at a fraction of what a veteran demands. As a result, the older veterans who hold the base of the sport will continue to leave. The young guys take over because they cost a lot less.

  11. I’ll miss AMatt’s dry snarky humor, I used to think he was kind of boring, but he really is a very funny person once he gets talking! I think he’s the first guy everyone will call next year if there’s an injury or need for a back up driver. I am happy they are atleast acknowledging it’s his end and hope they do something nice for him in these last few races.

    1. I love Matt’s sense of humor. Very dry. A lot of people don’t get it. Sadly. He really is very funny. Very sad to see him leave.

  12. The youth movement in NASCAR is all driver compensation related. Just as someone else said, teams can hire one of the countless young drivers who have come up through the ranks over the past several years, for a tiny fraction of what a veteran is looking to be paid. It’s the reason Gordon, Jr, and Edwards all stepped aside. The young guys are flying commercial or riding on the team plane, and living in something less than a $10M palace on the lake, with several other homes around the country.

  13. Matt was a great driver. I hate to see him leave. Although I have always been a Jeff Gordon fans, he helped us in ,2015 Martinsville. Always a class act and that dark humor loved it.

  14. Fear not, I’m sure droves will come and tune in to watch the Dillon boys and Menard duke it out. If ever Chase Elliott can win a race we can have a second coming of Dale Jr parade and all will be well.

  15. It is so sad to finally hear that Matt will not return next year. We all saw it coming. Its just another sad day in NASCAR.. The youth movement has sure taken a toll on the sport. It also makes me realize my age. At 64, I’ve watched them come and go, and this is yet another time for that. I hate it, but, I hate growing old too. lol Matt, you will truly be missed my friend. You’ve been a big part of my family for many years. Sorry, but, I’ve been a Dale Jr fan, but, I have always been a fan of the SPORT of NASCAR too. So I very much appreciate you and all you have done for the sport. I’m sorry you are more or less being forced out from lack of sponsorship and youth. Money drives everything, we all know that. I will miss you, on the track and off. But you take care, maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll see you back in a car in the near future, and if not, god bless you, and don’t just walk away, come see us, often. Maybe you’ll find something that sparks a new found interest in you and replace the thrills of the track. Never know. Love to you and yours, a fan, RJ

  16. Sadly part of his legacy will be his one-win championship season in 2003 which has brought us the catastrophe that NASCAR has become.

  17. I hadn’t heard of Matt leaving the sport until I came here while watching the anthem at Texas. It’s still playing right now. I’ve never seen so many empty seats at Texas. Have fun running Super Late Models Matt, you coulda run for 10 more years but the sport is almost dead.

  18. Matt should get a nice guest host position on FS1’s RaceHub. Imagine the ingenious contributions he would give with his brand of sarcasm.
    Or perhaps… put him on NBCSN to interact with buddy Dale Jr.

    1. Betty, I love that idea but from what he said, he won’t be hanging out at the track. I’m afraid he’s gonna walk away a little bit bitter and who can blame him. It hurts my heart tremendously to see him leave with no fanfare. He deserves soooo much more than he got. ????????????

    2. He will never take a TV job, but he would be a big improvement over the current gang of TV people.

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