Special Edition! Kenseth's future, Alcatraz, Kentucky preview, it must be Parker's Points! | Sports & Recreation
CONCORD - There's big news in NASCAR involving one of the sport's top drivers, and it just so happens that he's good friends with our own Adrian Parker, the creator and genius behind "Parker's Points!"
Adrian is the Communications Director at Charlotte Motor Speedway and former PR rep for Kenseth. This week we held up the column an extra day to get the very latest on the Kenseth split with RFR and the future for the popular driver.
DW: Big news this week in NASCAR as Roush Fenway Racing announced they will part ways with 2003 Sprint Cup champion and current championship series points leader Matt Kenseth at the end of 2012, ending a nearly 15-year relationship. Why the split up?
Seeing the coverage of this story over the past 24 hours and reading the interviews with Matt Kenseth, you’re led to believe it had to do with the fact he was halfway through a contract year (a year in which his contract expires) without a deal, which was a new situation for him, and the right offer came along.
According to Kenseth, he’s never entered a contract year at Roush Fenway Racing without a new contract, or an extension in place, until this year. This apparently left the door open for other teams to swoop in and pique his interest.
This had to be a difficult decision for Kenseth, who got his start in Cup with Jack Roush way back in 1999. I know Kenseth has a ton of respect for Roush and I’m sure this decision was an emotional one for him.
In the long run, I do think this could work out for both sides.
First, Kenseth would never have left unless he was going to another top flight team. He’s one of the most consistent and successful drivers in the sport and has been over the past 10 to 12 years. Kenseth is well respected on and off the race track and as Denny Hamlin said yesterday, “He's going to be a valuable asset wherever he goes and anybody would be lucky to have him.”
How does Kenseth’s departure affect RFR?
They announced Tuesday that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who is the reigning Nationwide Series champion, will move up to fill the vacant seat in 2013. Stenhouse is one of the brightest young talents in the sport and a testament to RFR’s driver development program. He’s ready for the big time and this will give him that opportunity and allow RFR to keep him in the stable.
Stenhouse’s move to Cup will open the No. 6 Nationwide seat for 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, also a very hot commodity, who’s spent stretches of 2012 on the sideline due to sponsorship issues. This will give Bayne more seat time to develop as a driver and the stability of a full-time Nationwide team that will chase the championship in 2013.
Bayne and Stenhouse are two of the better young talents in the sport and without Kenseth’s departure, RFR may have had a hard time hanging on to them for the long term.
While Kenseth says he has a full-time ride for 2013, he’s not saying anything beyond that other than he hopes to announce it sooner rather than later so that everyone can focus on the upcoming championship run.
Kenseth is committed to the No. 17 team for the rest of the season, adding this on Twitter Tuesday, “Darien and Tony proved to us last year there is no such thing as a ‘lame duck’ team or season. We will continue to go to work and race hard.”
DW: Okay, well the road course "turned" out just right for Clint Bowyer and MWR. Was that a surprise? What does it say about the strength of that team?
I think it speaks volumes for Michael Waltrip Racing. Clint Bowyer didn’t just win, he dominated. This breakout performance has been building and while Bowyer winning at Sonoma may be a bit of a surprise, the fact an MWR car reached victory lane is not.
MWR has their two full-time drivers inside the top-10 in the championship point standings—Bowyer is seventh and Martin Truex, Jr. is ninth. The No. 55 car, split among Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip, is currently 12th in owner points.
With the series stopping in the Waltrip family’s backyard this weekend in Kentucky, coupled with the strength they’ve shown at some of the intermediate ovals this year, I think this could be another strong weekend for MWR.
DW: Any other noteworthy items from Sonoma? Great run by Kurt Busch, surprisingly poor run by Earnhardt, Jr., etc.
That was a heartbreaking finish for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
He’s admittedly not a road racer and has never recorded a top-10 finish at Sonoma. He was set to finish around the 11th position when the final caution flag flew setting up a green-white-checkered finish. I’m sure Junior would’ve gladly taken that finish and moved on to Kentucky, but there were still two laps of racing.
Unfortunately Junior was caught up in a multi-car incident on the first green-flag lap after the restart and wound up finishing 23rd, the final car on the lead lap.
As for Kurt Busch, it was a great day for the entire No. 51 team. Busch was emotional after finishing third, but this time it was a positive emotion.
With a couple of fortuitous breaks of a slip by Bowyer, Busch may have won the race.
It’s a testament to the team’s tenacity and the resilience of Busch. No one’s ever questioned his driving talent and I personally believe he’s one of the top-five most talented drivers in the sport.
Hopefully, this is the start of good things for that entire team. But, it’s become apparent that Busch’s future in this sport won’t be decided by on-track results as much as it will be by how he handles himself outside of the racecar, particularly in the face of adversity.
DW: Okay, so off the track for just a moment. I think you may have enjoyed some down time in California? Do you mind sharing a little of that experience?
I went out to help our SMI brethren by working the race at Sonoma. I took a little three-day vacation at the first of the week on the west coast, then worked the NASCAR event weekend and finished it off with back-to-back nights watching Concord, N.C.’s own, The Avett Brothers perform in Berkeley and Sacramento.
Here’s a quick list of must-dos in the bay area:
- Dress in layers.
- Marvel at the design and beauty of The Golden Gate Bridge. Many vantage points to do this.
- Visit wine country in Napa Valley. Our favorite was the V. Sattui Winery.
- Drive down California Highway 1. South or North, it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful.
- Visit Alcatraz. Did you know Alcatraz is a national park and doesn’t charge admission? However, you have to pay a ferry $18 for the trip out to the island.
- Drive down Lombard Street. The twists and turns and steep elevation in the city is really cool. Just try not to hit a tourist.
- Go eat at Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine in San Rafael. Best meal of the week.
DW: Let's turn to the Bluegrass State. The Sprint Cup Series is back at Kentucky. What do you see for that race and, to bring up a touchy subject, what about traffic?
SMI has spent a lot of time and money on improving the infrastructure around the track and the state of Kentucky has dedicated a lot of resources as well to improve off-ramps, feeder roads, etc., around the facility.
I’m confident the traffic situation will be vastly improved this year and next week we’ll be talking about the traffic on the track during Saturday night’s race and not the traffic getting to and from the track.
As for who will win? I’m going with Darrell Wallace, Jr.
Oh, I thought we were talking about the big race coming up next week, the Legends Big Money 100 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The largest grassroots race around featuring the best Legend Car racers from around the country going at it on Tuesday at CMS for a $100,000 purse.
We’ll have the area’s first gigantic fireworks show and morning radio personalities Ace & TJ’s band Charity Case will perform a live pre-race concert. We’ll have games for the kids a full evening of on-track racing ending with the world’s largest Legend Car race. Adult tickets are only $10 and kids 13 and under get in free
OK, now on to Kentucky. The favorites will be intermediate dominators Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Who will challenge? Last year’s winner Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Junior should all perform well.
But, my pick will be Kahne.
Until next time…
Follow Adrian Parker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/yoAdrian_Parker.