Somewhere in a box in my attic is a copy of the Richmond County Daily Journal dated Nov. 10, 2003. On the front page of that day’s edition is a photograph I took on the front stretch of Matt Kenseth hoisting the last Winston Cup to be awarded. The picture was off centered and crooked because I took it getting pushed backward by a throng of photographers, but Bill Lindau worked some magic on honest-to-god printed shot and it was good to go for the paper.
In his fourth full-time season, Kenseth won one race but was consistent enough to clinch his championship in the next-to-last race of the year at Rockingham. His “consistency” led NASCAR to implement The Chase the next year.
Fast forward 14 years and 31 Cup wins later and it appears Kenseth’s racing career is over. After being unceremoniously dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing for the newer model (Eric Jones) and without any viable options for a winning ride for 2018, the 45-year-old Kenseth decided to call it quits this past week.
For now, at least.
“I’m not committing to anything for 2018,” Kenseth said Saturday. “I’m just going to take some time off, whatever that means. I don’t know if that’s a year, two years, three months, four months. You never know what happens.
“Maybe something comes along that really makes me excited and feels like it’s going to be a fit and you might go do. I’m certainly not going to rule that out. For now, I’m not making plans for 2018. I plan on taking some time off.”
Kenseth deserved better than this.
He deserved the type of send-off Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting this year. The kind Tony Stewart got last year and Jeff Gordon the year before. He deserved his victory lap. It should not have ended with a post-practice interview in the Texas garage.
Kenseth, from Wisconsin, was an unlikely NASCAR champion. He started in NASCAR with long-time crew chief Robbie Reiser and the pair took an under-funded, oft-sponsorless team and did some great things before getting noticed and brought on board by Jack Roush. From that, came a 38-race winner in NASCAR’s premier series (that’s 12 more than Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the same period, if you’re keeping track at home).
Off the track, Kenseth is known as one of the more level headed competitors in NASCAR, with a keen wit and dry sense of humor. His more measured response shows nothing less.
“Man, I’m a super-blessed guy,” he told reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’ve had an awesome career for a lot of years. I’ve been in good cars with good people my whole entire career.
“Got to work with a lot of great people, got a great family at home, got a lot to look forward to looking forward. There’s nothing to be too disappointed or upset about. At the end of the day, JGR did exactly what they committed to, and so did I.”
Yeah, that is nice and PC to say, and he still has two races to go with Gibbs to end the year, but Kenseth should have been given the opportunity to go out on his own terms, even with a little fanfare. Sure, it wouldn’t be Junior-level fanfare, but he deserved better and so did NASCAR fans.
Andy Cagle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.