Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: What If Matt Kenseth Stayed With Roush in 2019?

In 2018, Matt Kenseth‘s driving days were seemingly over, and rather unceremoniously. He was forced out of his NASCAR Cup Series No. 20 ride at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2017 for the up-and-coming Erik Jones (which didn’t really work out all too well in hindsight) and was left without a ride for 2018. Even an emotional final win at Phoenix Raceway didn’t convince teams to sign the former Cup champion to a deal in 2018.

Re-enter Jack Roush.

After ending their partnership on less than stellar terms after the 2012 season when Kenseth left for Gibbs, Roush called Kenseth and offered him a part-time opportunity to drive the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing, splitting it with Trevor Bayne.

RFR (now RFK Racing) was in the midst of a backslide after Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle all left the team within a four-year span. Bayne’s teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who replaced Kenseth in the No. 17 in 2013, was fresh off a two-win season and a playoff run.

However, Bayne failed to post a top 10 since finishing sixth at Martinsville Speedway in fall 2017, so Roush called up Kenseth. Change wasn’t immediately in the cards, but Kenseth snatched a stage win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before finishing out the year with two straight top 10s.

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This was the end of Kenseth’s NASCAR career until he was called up to finish the 2020 season in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 after previous driver Kyle Larson was fired for using a racial slur during an iRacing event in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as Kenseth revealed on the Dale Jr. Download in a recent episode, things could have been vastly different for the two-time Daytona 500 champion.

“After the 2018 season, [Roush Fenway Racing] offered me the full-time ride for as long as I wanted to go do it,” Kenseth told Dale Eanrhardt Jr.

Upon Bayne’s release from Roush, Kenseth was the first choice to fill the No. 6 (although I could see Roush moving Stenhouse to his old No. 6 to give Kenseth his old No. 17 back). Kenseth declined, citing missing his family as a big reason, so the team signed Ryan Newman, who had been released from Richard Childress Racing the previous year.

But what would have happened had Kenseth taken the ride full time?

Matt Kenseth/Ryan Newman

If Kenseth takes the ride in 2019, maybe he builds on his late 2018 success and stays in the car beyond 2019, denying Newman any tenure in a Roush car and avoiding his terrible accident in the 2020 Daytona 500.

In turn, perhaps Newman is the one who gets the call to drive the No. 42 in place of Larson, as Kenseth would be unavailable if he was with Roush. Kenseth’s Hall of Fame induction may not be 2023 if he races long enough, and then he has to compete with the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Edwards and Chad Knaus for a spot.

Newman’s NASCAR career would likely be on hold or all but over after his departure from RCR. There were some other rides available, such as the CGR No. 1 that was eventually filled by Kurt Busch, but otherwise he would not have found a ride and would’ve had to take a backseat until either he was called about the No. 42 or his deal with Rick Ware Racing came about this year.

Roush Fenway Racing

Suppose Kenseth decides to quit racing after 2020 like he actually did. Brad Keselowski had one more year on his contract with Team Penske, so Roush would’ve had to sign someone else for 2021.

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Newman could eventually end up with Roush after all, but that depends on how long Keselowski was talking to Roush about ownership. Newman isn’t the kind of driver who would just run one full-time season for a team, so who knows if he would be the choice?

Perhaps the ride is split, a la Project 60, Roush’s Xfinity team that saw Ty Majeski, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric share the No. 60 throughout the 2018 season. Cindric was waiting in the wings, perhaps giving him some more Cup starts, aside from his part-time gig in a fourth Penske car.

Splitting the ride with Cindric could have been someone such as Ross Chastain, looking for a full-time ride after losing his CGR Xfinity seat. He even filled in for Newman while he was recovering from injury.

Otherwise, another driver could come along and end up running full time with Roush, denying Keselowski the opportunity to become an owner-driver of Roush, and RFK may not find the success or rebuild it’s had since Keselowski joined.

One thing’s for sure: Kenseth returning to Roush in a full-time capacity may have had some interesting consequences that would have vastly changed the makeup of the series we watch today.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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