By admin | November 23, 2008
By Richard Allen
Roush Fenway Racing’s re-signing of Matt Kenseth answered one very important question for that organization going into 2009. But at the same time, it also raised an important question as well.
The question answered is, what was to become of Kenseth at the end of the 2009 season? The former Sprint Cup champion’s contract was due to expire at the end of the season. He would have been a much sought after prize by other teams had he not been locked down by RFR.
Certainly, to go through a season with an unsigned driver would have created a distraction that no one on the #17 team would have wanted.
Team co-owner Jack Roush summed up the team’s feelings when he said, “Matt Kenseth is a champion in every sense of the word and John Henry and I are proud to have him in our stable of drivers. Over the last 11 years Matt has been a leader in our organization and a voracious competitor on track, and to know that he will continue on in that role with Roush Fenway is gratifying.”
However, just because RFR has settled the issue with Kenseth does not mean they have settled all their issues.
In 2010 the NASCAR mandated limit of four teams per organization will go into effect. RFR currently fields five teams. Obviously, if Kenseth had been allowed to leave the organization at the end of the 2009 campaign the team count would have taken care of itself by simple attrition. Clearly, though, giving up a championship caliber driver was not the means by which RFR wanted to accomplish that goal.
So, how will Roush and co-owner John Henry whittle their organization down to the mandated number of teams after the next trip to the Homestead-Miami Speedway?
With Kenseth’s new deal, RFR has its top three drivers locked down for years to come. Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards are each signed through 2011. Each of their teams have lucrative sponsorship deals in place as well.
That would seemingly leave Jamie McMurray and David Ragan racing to save their spot on the team in 2009.
Both the #6 team of Ragan and the #26 team of McMurray have made recent moves that would seem to indicate that although the contracts of both drivers runs out in 2009, neither is looking to be shut down.
The #6 team will have a new sponsor in 2009 and beyond. UPS has moved from Michael Waltrip Racing to join forces with Roush Fenway. It does not appear as though the new sponsor nor the team owners anticipate that team being the subject of a cutback.
Ragan showed progress as a driver throughout last season and at times appeared ready for a breakout victory.
The #26 team is considered by many to be the favorite for a trimming. However, crew chief Larry Carter has been moved out and new crew chief Donnie Wingo has been brought in. Wingo served as McMurray’s crew boss when he drove for Ganassi Racing.
McMurray and his team had the appearance of a race winning contender at the end of the past season. If RFR had the intention of shutting this team down at year’s end next season then why go through the hassle of a crew chief swap, especially when the team’s performance was improving?
The prevailing thought among NASCAR insiders is that one of the Roush teams will simply be moved over to RFR’s sister organization, Yates Racing, after next year. However, the likelihood is that all five of the RFR teams will be inside the Top 35 of the standings at season’s end in 2009. It would be difficult for any owner to simply give away such a valuable piece of the company.
There could possibly be another option for Roush Fenway Racing. If they have five sponsored teams ready to go into the 2010 season, NASCAR may have no other choice by that time but to relax its four team mandate.
With the economy in a state of disarray, there is the real possibility of having race fields with less than 43 cars in the near future. With the prospect of reduced fields NASCAR may find it difficult to force an organization that could not only field a team, but a contending team, to reduce its numbers.
It may make for an interesting year of behind the scenes wrangling.
Yes, Matt Kenseth re-signing with Roush answered the question of the driver’s status beyond the near future. But, it also raised questions about the future of the company he drives for.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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