Matt Kenseth doesn’t expect to race next season unless a quality ride materializes.
The 45-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver told NBC Sports on Saturday during a taping of a podcast episode that after the season concludes he is taking a hiatus from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, confirming what seemed to be the likely outcome for the 2003 Cup Series champion as his options for a competitive car dwindled.
Kenseth revealed in July he would not be returning to the No. 20 as JGR named Erik Jones to the ride.
Here is what Kenseth told NBC Sports:
“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.”
He later added: “Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”
Kenseth, who said he had frequent contact with Rick Hendrick, admitted that being passed over for the No. 5 seat “should have been the cold water in my face.”
“Probably my biggest clue is when Rick put William [Byron] in the 5 car, and I didn’t get that opportunity,” he said. “That was one I thought maybe I would get and hopefully go over there and get that car running better. I felt like I could really do that and maybe mentor some of the young drivers coming along, and that didn’t work out, either.
“Probably after that happened, that should have been the cold water in my face that, ‘All right, you need to accept it and do the best you can this year and figure out what you’re going to next year and move on.’ ”
As he worked on returning to Victory Lane and qualifying for the post-season, Kenseth had long maintained he was focused on racing for a championship and would not comment on his future until the right time. He was eliminated from title contention two weeks ago.
Unfortunately, Kenseth also acknowledged if he were to race next year it would only be for the sake of racing and not with the opportunity to contend for race wins and championships. A series champion, two-time Daytona 500 champion and winner to date of 38 races, Kenseth still believes he has enough left to contribute to a race team in a successful manner – and is deliberately not using the R word.
“The retirement word doesn’t really make a lot of sense in this sport really because there’s, it’s not like the NFL where you get a pension if you officially retire or you do any of that stuff. Mostly it’s for people like [Dale Earnhardt] Jr. that got to fill the seat and have a sponsor and all that stuff. For me it’s just different because I didn’t really have that option, my seat got filled before, before any of that so there’s really no reason to talk about it.
“I’ll just take some time off, whatever that means. I don’t know if that’s a year, two years, three months, four months, I mean you never know what happens. Maybe something comes along that really makes you excited and it feels like it’s going to be a fit, you might go do. Certainly not gonna rule that out, but for now, I’m not making any plans for 2018. I just plan on having some time off.”
Kenseth debuted in the Cup Series with a sixth-place finish at Dover International Speedway in 1998, substituting for Bill Elliott. The season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks will be Kenseth’s 650th and potentially last career start.