Kenseth Decision a Rare Win-Win for All Parties
The monicker is utter rubbish, but when analyzing the decision by Roush Fenway Racing to let Matt Kenseth walk, unimpeded, into free agency, while the organization that thrives on homegrown talent promotes reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse, it evidently holds true. This is a rare transaction that will ultimately be a win-win for all parties involved.
Roush Fenway is not exactly on the cutting edge of sponsorship acquisition, which is the underlying impetus behind the decision to let Kenseth go. Having a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion on the talent roster was a luxury that Roush Fenway could no longer afford. The decision to part ways with Kenseth as his contract expires following this season’s finale at Homestead Miami Speedway is a sound business strategy and also a savvy move in terms of development.
Stenhouse cannot be picked apart any more than he already has. Quite frankly, Stenhouse has nothing to gain from a fourth full season in NASCAR’s AAA division; he is ready for the next level, as demonstrated earlier this year by his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he picked his spots with a dominant car and snookered driving sage Mark Martin. Now, his development will continue — he will have a rough go of it at first, considering he will now face 42 other Cup Series regulars each race as opposed to four or five — and he comes at a significantly cheaper rate than what Kenseth warrants as a former series champion.
Stenhouse’s smaller salary will alleviate the need for a large sponsorship, something that was mandatory to pay for Kenseth’s talents. Roush Fenway now can seek out small sponsorship packages in which to run Stenhouse for a full season. Stenhouse is not more marketable than the established Kenseth, but team president Steve Newmark and gang are increasing their odds of landing potential new partners by shrinking the cost of the program to a more attractive price point.
Newmark may not realize the favor he just did for Kenseth, but, even at age 40, the 2003 champion becomes the best driver to hit the open market since Kyle Busch in 2007. As previously indicated on this web site, his age is not a factor; Kenseth, who presently ranks second in Cup Series Production in Equal Equipment Ratings (PEER), is Mark Martin, version 2.0, a driver with no signs of big regression who will likely be very good at age 50. What teams can benefit from a decade of his services? The list as it stands now is three deep with one heavy frontrunner.
Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 − 85 percent odds: Joe Gibbs Racing failed in its attempt to sign Carl Edwards last season and is still desperate to piece together a championship-worthy program to try and retain sponsor The Home Depot. Reportedly, it was Home Depot that balked at the high salary and performance bonuses JGR had earmarked for Edwards, who had committed to sign and take over the No. 20 car. Same drill, different driver this season, but the likelihood of it happening is greater. Kenseth will not command as high of a number as Edwards and his year-to-year consistency — he has recorded serviceable PEER numbers in each of his 13 seasons in the Cup Series — is something that would be a welcome sight for an organization that houses two highly-skilled, wildly erratic stars in Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. His signing might not bode well for Joey Logano, who has pocketed a Cup win this season and is producing at a phenomenal rate in the Nationwide Series. Sad to say, but the idea of the future success Logano offers pales in comparison to the 10 years of serenity and steadiness that a team could bank on from Kenseth.
Penske Racing No. 22 − 10 percent odds: In the case of Penske Racing, they may not be heavy favorites for Kenseth, but they would be remiss if they did not inquire about his availability. A.J. Allmendinger’s one-year fill-in deal is up this season and the team is still searching for a proper replacement for Kurt Busch. Ryan Newman and Martin Truex will also be considered, but Kenseth is the only one currently a part of a team with a 93.75 Relevance (read: percentage of races finished in the top half of the field), envied by the likes of Penske that has to put up with a 62.50 Relevance from Allmendinger and the No. 22 team.
Michael Waltrip Racing No. 56 - five percent odds: It would disrupt MWR’s power siege if Truex elected to leave for greener pastures, but Waltrip and co-owner/bankroll Rob Kauffman could make a high-dollar swoop for Kenseth to keep momentum going and sponsorship interest intact. It is more likely that the team re-ups Truex, who is regressing towards the mean (now at a 2.094 PEER, ranked 11th, after having a 3.938 PEER following the race at Kansas Speedway) since his career best start to a single season.
Regardless of where Kenseth lands, he will be a winner and the same goes with Stenhouse at Roush Fenway Racing. The rare win-win scenario that transpired yesterday betters the sport for the foreseeable future. If all decisions by race teams were this intelligent, there would be no need for analysis; however, with the first domino on the ground, the good, bad and ugly of NASCAR transactions are all, officially, in play.
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