The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Sponsors Make Things Silly by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday September 5, 2012

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Did You Notice? ... Sponsors Make Things Silly

Thomas Bowles · Wednesday September 5, 2012

 

Did You Notice?… Sponsorship is what’s making the Silly Season world go round these days? Matt Kenseth didn’t have enough of it at Roush Fenway; Joey Logano had it stripped from him at Joe Gibbs Racing. Their financial problems, not personality conflicts or performance issues led to the biggest day of announcements we’ll see for 2013.

Kenseth’s time in front of the cameras came first, one of the most poorly kept secrets in NASCAR history due to a contract that kept him from “officially” announcing his move until a certain date. (Side note: When will NASCAR get with the 21st Century? Do they really think an archaic piece of paper will keep the Twitterverse silent for three months? Hello… someone get Jack Roush an iPhone and a paper shredder – that contract should have been ripped up and a press conference held back in July. But I digress.)

Matt Kenseth, after losing sponsor Crown Royal at the end of the 2011 season was looking for a little financial security. And with Joe Gibbs Racing… that mission is accomplished, at least for now.

In reality, we all know this deal was sealed months ago, when an unhappy JGR sponsor in Home Depot complained right at when Kenseth realized his own employer would never have the funding to keep him long-term. Millions at RFR were already committed to keep younger drivers Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne above water; across the way, fellow 40-something teammate Greg Biffle had a long-term deal with 3M and was leading the points. As expected, time and again Tuesday, Kenseth dodged the money and/or leaving RFR question. But even during a well-branded presser, one that centered around hope and change (after all, Obama is in town) there were moments where you could read between the lines.

“’I’ve been at Roush for so long, I was so comfortable there and that would have been the easiest thing to do,” he said at one point, discussing the transition to JGR. “Being there 15 years, I know almost everybody that works there. You know the place and you’re real comfortable…”

It was spoken, at that moment almost as if, even in the middle of this new reality Kenseth was wistfully thinking of what could have been. He’s leaving a best friend in Biffle, a likable crew chief in Jimmy Fennig and a team which, at midseason was leading the points themselves and one of Sprint Cup’s strongest championship contenders. Why would you leave a team that was in position to win you a second title? At 40, with the hit-or-miss Chase you never know if Kenseth will get another chance, especially with the No. 20 at JGR – a team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2008. In fact, only one thing’s for certain; with this deal, he’s lost any hope of a NASCAR title for 2012. The No. 17 car has just one top-5 finish since the Kenseth/Stenhouse switch was announced for 2013; with Hendrick’s recent dominance, they’ll be lucky to finish the Chase fifth or better.

I think that’s why Kenseth spent the day never giving us a clear answer on why he’s at Gibbs. Most athletes, when free agents look for the best opportunity that fits them; Kenseth was forced from what he thought was a lifetime gig after getting dumped by his boss. It’s all a blur after that; but sadly, it isn’t the first time Jack Roush has thrown a veteran into the Silly Season market like this one. Jeff Burton, in 2004 had a similar fate once sponsorship dried up on the No. 99 car. The door was opened for Carl Edwards then, a move that led to instant success in the same way Roush believes Stenhouse can take the next step. Stats-wise, last year’s title runner-up Edwards was clearly the better move long-term. Burton has been good, not great in his Roush afterlife, developing into an elder statesman at Richard Childress Racing while racking up a handful of Chase appearances and victories.

I expect the same type of track record for Kenseth here; the long-term move was to guarantee an extension of his career, any way possible and JGR was the answer that was there at the time. Meanwhile, owner Joe Gibbs on this deal knows the real winners are sitting inside the cockpits of his No. 11 and No. 18 Toyotas. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both oh-so-close to holding that Sprint Cup trophy now get to meet every week with somebody who has one. Championship experience, combined with respect will make a big difference inside a camp that, for the past four years was two youngsters pushed into a role of maturity with a teenage sidekick that seemed in way over his head. It was the Three Stooges of NASCAR Emotion Run Amok – and it cost them.

But that chapter, almost immediately has turned the page. Think the JGR duo that remains is too egotistical and bull-headed to realize what they’ve got? Think again.

“Between him and Bill Elliott,” says Hamlin of Kenseth, “These are two guys that I try to model my driving style after.”

“Having Matt’s talents,” added Busch. “Where he’s a past champion in the sport, he can win races and be capable of running well every single week, we felt like it was just a possible better opportunity for us.”

Even Joe Gibbs was waxing poetic, on cloud nine recognizing Kenseth was perhaps one of a handful of names that could have kept Home Depot from jumping ship.

“I think he’s done great things and to win a championship — we all know how hard that is,” said the car owner. “We’re thrilled and I am excited to think that we have Denny, Kyle and Matt all sitting in a meeting talking things over — I would have to think it would be hard for us to miss something with those three guys on the feedback.”

What will be missing, of course starting in 2013 is Logano, the “next generation” driver whose next step will be with someone else. Like Gibbs, Penske jumped at the chance to grab this available wheelman, who realized the money was never going to be there at JGR (sound familiar?) Sure, a full-time Nationwide schedule was always in the cards for 2013 but that’s like taking a guy who’s stayed at the Trump Plaza for four straight years and booting him out into a Motel 6. In order to survive, the 22-year-old figured the best way was to run full-time in Cup; part-time is a part-time shift towards being outside the sport altogether.

That’s why Penske came along at the perfect time, a potential lateral move at a time when sponsorless drivers hit the unemployment line. And who was unhappy? Shell/Pennzoil, which had been through a temper tantrum-filled, embarrassing 2011 (Busch), then got dragged into the drug mess with A.J. Allmendinger (winless) before settling on Sam Hornish, Jr. to finish the season in the car.

Again, it’s not the “perfect fit,” teammate Brad Keselowski clearly the head honcho. But what other option did Logano have? Front Row Motorsports? To fulfill a dream, truly becoming the best his generation has produced the man can’t be out there driving jalopies.

And he won’t. My prediction is Kenseth sixth, Logano seventh in points next year – and each one wins a race in the Chase.

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Carl D.
09/05/2012 07:14 AM
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I agree that these were moves that made sense for the drivers. As for the owners, I’m not so sure that Joey Logano was the best driver available for the #22. I don’t know what kind of contractual ties there are between Brian Vickers and MWR, but if Vickers was available I think he’d be a better fit at Penske and a more productive driver. I might have even gone with Hornish over Logano. I think you’re right, though… the sponsors are making the ultimate decisions on who they want sporting their logos these days.

Matt Kenseth will do great at JGR. That one was a no-brainer.

Andy
09/05/2012 09:17 AM
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JGR looks like it will have a great team. I’m not enthralled with Denny, but will reserve final judgement until the end of this season.

I hope Logano is on a short-term contract. Penske’s drivers are often second tier and Joey may be lower than that. Better than Hornish though, and it seems like Brad has a strong need to be king-of-the hill. Brad’s very good, but someone like Newman would have improved him. Vickers? Not enough data on him yet but he’s doing well.

Roush seems to have all the money but lacks leadership or focus. I remain disappointed that they never put a championship together for Mark Martin.

just talking
09/05/2012 10:20 AM
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When all is said and done – I still do not know how Rousch can rationalize letting Kenseth go. Edwards and Biffle need to win a Cup in the next couple of years, or else Rousch looks bad. I know Kenseth is older than other drivers, but he still wins and still runs hard week in and week out.

As for Logano – I think he has shown about the same as vickers and more than Hornish – so why not? Plus “Andy” above is right – Brad needs to be king of the hill. (Backs it up too) Plus he is young also.

Carl D.
09/05/2012 10:27 AM
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“In fact, only one thing’s for certain; with this deal, he’s lost any hope of a NASCAR title for 2012.”

Help me out here… I do not understand why an owner would just quit on a team that has clinched a chase spot just because the driver is leaving at the end of the year. Isn’t the whole object of owning a team to win the championship? Sure, Kenseth is departing, but there are other RFR employees… crew members, engineers, etc… who have worked long and hard to win the cup; I don’t understand why Roush would not do everything he can to help the team win the championship, even with a lame duck driver. I know there are proprietary considerations and strategy issues that have to be negotiated, but it seems to me that the possibility of winning the championship would be worth it. Maybe I just don’t understand how the sport works anymore.

Stephen Hood
09/05/2012 10:55 AM
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I think Logano will prove to be a bust in a Penske ride. I’m disappointed Roger made the safe choice. After listening to the Penske press conference this morning, it sounds like Keselowski was helping to broker the deal. Maybe Keselowski is hoping to insure he remains top dog.

Robin1
09/05/2012 11:12 AM
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I am disappointed that Joe Gibbs kicked Joey to the curb. I wish him success with Penske (although he definately won’t be “top dog”). And I would like to remind people that Joey was brought into the CUP series at least a year earlier than Gibbs had planned because Stewart left. We all know Joey could have benefited with more seat time in the Nationewide Series before he moved to the Cup series. On top of that, Joey was never going to be “top dog” at Gibbs either with Denny and Kyle already there. I could care less about Kenseth being at Gibbs (or anywhere for that matter), but I hope he doesn’t think that Gibbs is going take resources away from Kyle and Denny and give it to him.

midasmicah
09/05/2012 12:55 PM
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Logano suffered the same fate as other “not ready for prime time” players in nas$car. He was not allowed to “mature’ at the “AAA” level. He should have kept in the nationwide series for a year or to. Not many drivers can succeed at the cup level when thrown into the fire at such a young age. As for Kenseth, He’s the consumate professional and I wish him the best at JGR.

Earner
09/05/2012 03:15 PM
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Best to Kenseth (& I’m sure he’ll be fine) Sure would like to know what the Roush sponsorship deal is because they sure have issues with sponsors on cars that are producing well…Logano was up way to early & it showed (no fault to him) ..But could be just like Brad…Lousy for 1.5 rs & then liftoff…Maybe in 2013 Tony & Danica can share the ride…Ooh sponsorship $$$…eventually the whole system may have to be rebuilt

AncientRacer
09/05/2012 04:43 PM
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Here is the thing about Logano: He is a clean, polite kid.

He is not mature as a driver being thrown into Cup at JGR too soon as Coach Gibbs himself has noted. Even if he were mature he might not be the best driver available.

But he is a clean, polite kid and a clean, polite kid is what, I believe, Penske needed to ensure Shell stayed aboard.

SHOEMAN
09/05/2012 10:58 PM
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I believe ROUSH Will regret ever letting Matt go. He will do just fine with JGR. Joey is going to develope in to one of NASCAR’s bright stars. Good luck to both of them.

k
09/06/2012 02:08 AM
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Yes, Joey was thrown in too soon, however that does not negate his talent one bit, he is young and talented, Joe’s loss, Thrive and win Joey, you are the best man for the Penske stable..go get them!

Tim
09/08/2012 11:59 AM
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Joey will fade away in couple years.Joey’s problem is his family threw a bunch of money at his race team in lower tier racing series and made him look like he had alot more talent than he does, like alot of young drivers whos families buy them the best money can buy in the lower series it has caught up with him once they reach the cup series

Chuck Roast
09/09/2012 12:42 PM
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I lost all respect for Roush when he canned Martin with malice. There wasn’t much spoken at the time but you could tell there was no love lost between them. I believe if Roush had given Martin top quality equipment that he would’ve won a Championship.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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