Matt Kenseth’s retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series didn’t last very long. In fact, it lasted only 11 races. Kenseth, will pilot the No. 6 Ford with Roush/Fenway Racing in the 12th race of the 2018 season on May 12 at the Kansas Speedway. But, in Kenseth’s defense, he never really called this recent lull a “retirement” to begin with.
Kenseth, will split time in the RFR Ford with Trevor Bayne. The amount of races and length of the contract aren’t not yet known, but RFR left the door open for this to be a multi-year agreement.
So, why now? Does this mean Bayne is realistically out at the end of the year?
Honestly, it doesn’t. This move is an effort by RFR to see where they stand. As we sit here today, RFR is still struggling to get back to being a regular contender. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bayne have two combined Cup victories between them. They’ve also only scored 17 combined top five finishes, 13 of which since the start of the 2016 season. On the flip side, Kenseth has 39 wins and 181 top fives to his credit in 650 starts. 24 of those 39 wins, including two of which in the Daytona 500, have come with RFR. So, this move to bring Kenseth back, well it was a move to see where they stand with their race cars and how they can get them better.
This basically says, we don’t think Stenhouse or Bayne can give us the right information to propel us back to the top. Bringing in a seasoned veteran who’s still hungry to race and feels at home with RFR, well he can.
So, what are the realistic expectations for Kenseth in his return? By comparison, Jeff Gordon made an eight race return in a fill in role for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 and he never scored a top five in those races. He only had two top 10’s in those starts, the best a sixth place run in his final race at Martinsville. The biggest difference between them though, is that Gordon thought he was done when he left Homestead in 2015. The series had 19 races before Gordon returned. He wasn’t in tip top shape when he came back for his first race at Indy that year. Kenseth, well he’s never stopped training as he always felt like he wanted one more go of it.
But, to bring it back to realistic goals, Gordon hopped into a Hendrick car, Kenseth is in a struggling RFR car. It’s not like he’s jumping into top equipment. This car for example, hasn’t been to victory lane since at Daytona in 2011. Prior to that? Kansas in 2005.
The No. 6 Ford has two wins in 13 years.
Since 2007, the last 11 seasons, that car has had just 12 total top five finishes. Kenseth has had at least 12 top five finishes in a single season in five of his last seven years in Cup. He had 10 top five finishes alone last year. He also has more wins in just 2015, 2016 and 2017 alone than the car he’s now driving has had this century. Think about that.
So, when wondering why Kenseth is back and why he’s being paired with Bayne in that car, it’s because he can give honest feedback on what they need to contend again. Then, he’ll step back aside again and let them remain relevant.
So, the goal isn’t for Kenseth to win right away. He may not ever win with RFR in this experiment. But, his task is to give them feedback and help them find the resources to get them back to contending again. Is it the drivers? Is it the engineering department? Is it the cars in general? Is it a combo of all three?
RFR is saying we’re willing to spend whatever it takes to become a top Cup team again. We just need help identifying where that money needs to go to.
In comes Kenseth.