By: Toby Christie – Follow on twitter @toby_christie
Silly season is in full swing, and three notable veteran drivers are among those trying to secure a ride for the 2018 season: Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne.
Rides are filling up left and right in an ever changing market, which is now seeing the value of veteran drivers diminish with young drivers like Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and others running incredibly well while demanding less salary than the drivers who have been in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for a decade or more..
As a result, we have seen Hendrick Motorsports, who in recent history have chosen proven veteran talent to fill out their roster, sign fast youngsters Alex Bowman and William Byron.
With all of the moving and shaking going on, what competitive rides remain for the three biggest names on the market?
For Busch, his best option seems to be to stay put at his Stewart-Haas Racing team. The team has tweeted that they expect Busch to wheel their No. 41 Ford Fusions again next season, but they failed to pick up the option in his contract for 2018, which leaves Busch as a free agent. Busch has a checkered past, which makes him a hard sell to sponsors, but there is no doubting his talent. Busch is the 2004 Series champion, and he has 29-career wins including this year’s Daytona 500.
Busch has come out and said that he has received calls from teams interested in signing him, but I truly believe it will take a team that doesn’t mind self-sponsoring the car for at least part of the season to land Busch as their driver. Honestly the only team left that seems in a position to do that is Stewart-Haas Racing. I think Busch ends back up in the No. 41 car for 2018.
What about Kenseth?
Kenseth has 14 wins in his five seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, so it had to feel like a punch to the gut when he was told that the team was going to replace him with Erik Jones in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for 2018. Jones is a rookie this season.
At 45 years old, Kenseth doesn’t have time on his side, so he can’t join a start up team and wait for them to build into a winning organization. So if Kenseth is to continue driving next season in NASCAR’s top level it would have to be for an organization capable of taking him to Homestead with a shot at a championship. The team that puts the biggest check mark in that category has to be Furniture Row Racing.
Kenseth could work a deal to move to the No. 77 Toyota, which was vacated by his JGR replacement Jones. FRR has a technical alliance with JGR, and Martin Truex Jr. has proven that the team in Denver, Colorado is more than capable of being a dominant force in the sport. What better way to stick it to Joe Gibbs Racing than to beat them in their own equipment at a different team.
The only snag would be that Furniture Row already self-sponsors a huge chunk of races on Truex’s car throughout the year, so it’s unlikely Kenseth could move to the No. 77 unless full sponsorship is found. More troubling to this scenario is that the sponsorship in place on the car currently includes Energy Drink maker — Five Hour Energy. 45 year old drivers aren’t usually the demographic these companies are looking to partner with.
Kenseth could opt to move to another team to stay in the sport, but considering he has accomplished so much over his career — 2003 champion and 38 wins — I feel if he doesn’t sign with FRR, he will walk off into the sunset.
Then there is Kahne, who finally put an end to a miserable losing streak with a win in the Brickyard 400 a few weeks ago. Kahne, 37, would fit the energy drink club better than the elder Kenseth, but I don’t think Kahne has done enough over the last five years (four wins) to gain the attention of FRR owner Barney Visser.
The rumor that has consistently swirled around Kahne — even while he was still under contract with Hendrick Motorsports for 2018 — was that he would drive a car for GMS Racing in the Cup Series.
GMS Racing — which has thrived in the Truck Series, and started an Xfinity Series team this year — has yet to announce whether they are moving to the Cup Series in 2018, but their owner Mary Gallagher has expressed interest in making that happen. A big name veteran like Kahne may be just what the team needs to get their organization started off on the right foot in the Cup Series.
It all looks great on paper, but until the team announces they are going Cup racing, it is a very long shot.
Another realistic possibility for Kahne — if sponsorship can be found to make it happen — would be for him to replace Danica Patrick, who is having a hard time finding sponsorship for next year, in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford Fusion.
Kahne has a great relationship with Tony Stewart due to the frequent dirt track racing he does in his free time with Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner. Kahne also has a history with Ford as he was one of their developmental drivers before accepting a driving gig with Ray Evernham and Dodge in 2004. SHR just feels like the place where Kahne can reignite his career.
Will any of this happen? Who knows. With how wild this silly season has been so far it seems silly to even guess, but these are the most realistic options for each of these drivers in my honest opinion.
Photo: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images