On Friday afternoon, Matt Kenseth mentioned that he does not have a contract for the 2018 season. And NASCAR Nation experienced a collective shrug.
While celebrity drivers such as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon drove the headlines during their final seasons, the offices at Daytona wondered how the sport would survive the loss of these giant personalities. There is no such current discussion at play in regards to the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Is this because we don’t even care about Kenseth, or is he that immaterial to our sport?
He has been relevant in the past scoring one Cup championship in 2003, standing up as the best man twice, and finishing out the season in the top 10 twelve times in his eighteen year career. He has collected 38 victories and is tied with Kyle Busch for 20th in the all-time wins column. He is certainly no slouch.
But would ticket sales at the track or the Fanatics haulers suffer a loss if the 45 year-old father of four closed up shop at the end of the 2017 year? Probably not.
Kenseth has always suffered from a lack of perceived enthusiasm for the sport. His cool and collected approach to driving carries over into his media appearances, leaving the fan base quietly cheering for a driver who has been taunted for failing to crack a smile even after winning a championship. There will be some dedicated fans who bemoan the loss of a familiar face at the track. They don’t tend to hang over the railings of the grandstands holding up a beer and screaming as their driver passes by on every single lap. It’s more like a mutual adoration society between Matt and his crew that is to the rest of NASCAR what a tea social is to a frat party.
Like Greg Biffle, should Kenseth leave the sport, it is possible that by next July the sport would be struggling to even remember to mention his name. (Biffle who? You remember, he drove the No. 16 through the end of the 2016 season.)
On the other end of the spectrum, when considering the chances Kenseth faces in landing a new contract, would moving up some of the stellar talents that are working their way up the NASCAR ladder help to generate interest from the much coveted younger segment of the fan base? Well, is the veteran or untried rookie more likely to create the kind of controversy on track that creates headlines? Which can translate into clicks, tweets, and internet chatter?
We all know teenagers tend not to be too quiet. Most middle-aged dads spends their Saturdays mowing the lawn. If Kenseth trades in his Toyota for a Toro, those monitoring the conversations surrounding his name may not see much of a blip on the radar. However, those social media moguls might have more to challenge their days if a young gun such as Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, or sweet-faced Matt Tifft were to slide into the No. 20 and started sharing their daily achievements.
In the end, should Kenseth fail to come to an agreement with Gibbs, there will likely be another seat that opens up for him. But he probably will never find the opportunity to compete for a Cup again. His glory days are comfortably behind him. I also believe they are little more than pleasant distant memories for many NASCAR fans. This last week’s announcement was nothing more than yet another herald signifying the changing landscape of our sport, one that will appeal to a younger and hopefully more active fan base in the future.
Aric Almirola will be testing in a race car at Charlotte Motor Speedway when you receive this newsletter. The latest scans of his T5 vertebrae show good bone growth. Cautiously optimistic, if the test goes really well there is a chance he’ll be back behind the wheel of the No. 43 this week at Loudon, NH. Here’s crossing all our fingers and toes for a great test session.
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