Loudon, N.H. — Matt Kenseth knows his NASCAR career will soon fade to black.
But the same week he was given a pink slip by Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth hit the road for a Metallica concert instead of pounding the pavement to find a ride in 2018.
“Actually made me feel 20 again for about four hours, which was pretty fun,” Kenseth said.
If Kenseth actually was 20, he’d be an in-demand driver for a Cup Series rapidly undergoing a changing of the guard. Young is cool. And for a sport desperately angling to hook a new generation of fans, 20-something drivers such as Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones could lead the charge into the next decade and beyond. Some of that evolution comes at the expense of veteran drivers such as Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion and a two-time Daytona 500 champion, who got the official news this week he was out at JGR at the end of the season.
Jones, 21, of Byron, Michigan, will take Kenseth’s job in the No. 20 Toyota. Jones is on a one-year loaner contract to Gibbs’ sister team Furniture Row Racing, and Gibbs had to put Jones somewhere in 2018.
Kenseth’s fate had been in limbo — though it seemed obvious Jones was being groomed for the ride — and Gibbs made the transaction complete, leaving the Kenseth, 45, without a car next year.
“I’m just glad they finally put it out so I don’t have to pretend anymore,” Kenseth said at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “Everybody can ask you about it, everybody can move on and get back to racing.”
Kenseth, who qualifiedfourth at New Hampshire, said Friday he had no hard feelings toward the organization and has no concerns about his future. He also has no timetable for a decision but there are few options.
The best bet could be a one-year landing spot at Hendrick Motorsports driving the No. 88 Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride will be open once he retires at the end of the season. Team owner Rick Hendrick has promising prospect William Byron, a 19-year-old Xfinity Series driver, and could consider Alex Bowman following a solid stint subbing last season for the injured Earnhardt.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said sponsorship dollars would likely dictate who gets the coveted ride. Johnson, who will have a vote on his new teammate, also said Kenseth has the resume that will earn him a ride somewhere next season.
“Matt’s just too good,” he said. “The guy can win races and championships and that won’t be overlooked. But I do feel Matt’s at a point in his career where he just won’t take any ride.”
Kenseth has won 16 races over five seasons with JGR and is NASCAR’s oldest full-time driver. He is the veteran at Gibbs, which has 2015 champion Kyle Busch, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and reigning Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez. Kenseth, 11th in the standings in his 18th Cup season, said he knew for about a year he could be on the way out at JGR.
“I feel like we did a lot of great things,” Kenseth said. “I don’t think there’s anything to be bitter about or feel bad about. We’re both living up to the agreements we made.”
Outside of the 88, quality rides are slim for 2018.
“I hope to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I still enjoy racing. I still feel like I could be an asset to somebody, so I hope so.”
Larson wins qualifying
Kyle Larson turned a lap of 133.324 mph and won the pole for Sunday’s Overton’s 301 NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Larson won his fourth pole of the season in the No. 42 Chevrolet for team owner Chip Ganassi. Larson’s team was penalized 35 points this week by NASCAR, erasing what had been a one-point advantage over Martin Truex Jr. in the driver standings.
Ganassi did not appeal the penalty.
After setting the pace in practice for the British Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas’ bid for a second successive victory was hit by a five-place penalty on the grid for the Formula One race.
The sanction was imposed because of an unscheduled change of gearbox.