Kenseth making best of end of road with JGR, possibly his NASCAR career
It could have gotten very uncomfortable as Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth sat side-by-side shortly after an intriguing race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Both drivers wanted to win for different reasons, both came up short, then circumstances put them together in a post-race news conference.
Jones, the rookie, was seeking his first Cup Series victory Saturday night. He wound up second to Kyle Busch, his soon-to-be teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. He started from the pole, led the most laps, and really needed that win to lock him into NASCAR's playoffs.
Kenseth hasn't won a Cup race in a little over a year and also could use an automatic berth into the playoffs.
And, he's on his way out at Gibbs — perhaps even NASCAR all together — because Jones was hired to drive Kenseth's car next year.
So when Jones used his bumper to knock Kenseth out of the preferred driving lane at Bristol — a move that took Kenseth from contention to a fourth-place finish — things could have been very awkward after the race.
But Kenseth smiled, cracked jokes, ribbed Jones a little bit and assured everyone that everything is just fine.
“I don't really have anything to be unhappy about,” he said. “Things can turn on dime. But my life couldn't be much better. I've never really been in a better place. I don't think I've ever been happier. There's more to life than racing.”
Indeed, there is a lot more ahead for Kenseth, a father of four who turned 45 in March. His choices are just limited because of the rapid changing of the guard in NASCAR.
Almost overnight, the veterans are being squeezed out of the Cup Series because of the difficult economic climate in racing. Sponsors are hard to come by, almost every driver needs to find some sort of funding on his own and corporate America's current appetite is to back the young kids just breaking into the sport.
That's fantastic news for car owners, who don't have to shell out millions in driver salary to a veteran. Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and former Cup champion, makes a lot of money. Jones, at just 21 years old, draws a fraction of Kenseth's salary.
So even though he wants to keep driving, is a proven winner, still challenges for victories and is an asset to any race team, there might not be a seat for Kenseth next year.
“I wish it kind of maybe would have went down a different way or maybe I had another year or two there,” he said. “That's not the way it worked out. I think everything happens or doesn't happen for a reason. It will all become clear.”