By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
SPARTA, Ky. – The first domino has fallen in what promises to be NASCAR’s most enthralling “silly season.”
In a question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday morning at Kentucky Speedway, Matt Kenseth confirmed that he has no job for next year and doesn’t expect to return to Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I don’t have a ride at this moment for next year,” said Kenseth, in advance of Saturday’s Quaker State 400 (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “I really haven’t worked on anything real hard, but I do not think I will have the option to race at JGR next year, unfortunately.”
That doesn’t mean Kenseth plans to retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“I certainly hope to still be racing,” he said. “I think I’ve got some wins left in me, and hopefully I can race for championships, but right now my focus is on finishing up this year. As we talked about, it’s been kind of a slow start.
“It hasn’t been a good year at all, not nearly up to my standards or my team’s standards. Really trying to get back to Victory Lane, hopefully trying to get qualified for the playoffs here and have a shot at the championship is pretty much my focus at this point.”
Kenseth’s exit from the No. 20 JGR Toyota doubtless will amplify speculation that Erik Jones will leave the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Camry to take that seat.
As to Kenseth’s future, his name has been mentioned as a possible short-term solution for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from full-time racing at the end of the season.
But Kenseth was mum on that subject.
“I’ve really probably said too much about what I’m not doing next year, so I really don’t have anything to say about what I am doing at this point,” Kenseth said. “At this point, I don’t have anything going on for next year, and I’m pretty focused on trying to get running better this year and winning some races.”
Kenseth and Earnhardt were both rookies in 2000, but Earnhardt doesn’t expect his fellow driver to follow him into retirement just yet.
“Matt is going to have a job,” Earnhardt said emphatically. “I don’t think he’s got to worry about that. I think that it’s smart for him to let everybody know early what his plans are or the lack thereof. He is a talented guy who is just a couple of races removed from being a winner and could show up any week and get to Victory Lane.
“I think that the situation with Gibbs, from an outsider looking in, is there’s just not enough room. The Jones kid is probably going to come in there and take that ride, or there is some agreement beforehand possibly that that was what was going to happen.
“But Matt will get a job. He’s so good and so talented that he will be in a great car with a great opportunity next year, no less than what he has this year.”