By NASCAR Media Relations Wednesday, June 27 2012 00:00
Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday that Matt Kenseth, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, will leave the team at the end of the 2012 season, ending one of the sport's longest-running driver-owner partnerships.
The team announced that Ricky Stenhouse Jr., defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, will drive the No. 17 Ford full-time beginning in 2013.
Jack Roush is the only team owner Kenseth has had since joining NASCAR's premier series full-time in 2000. In his Roush Fenway tenure, Kenseth has won the 2003 Sprint Cup championship and 22 races, including this year's Daytona 500.
"I'm very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he's given me over the past 14 years," Kenseth posted on Twitter. "Together we have enjoyed a lot of success . . . and as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a 3rd Sprint Cup title for Jack and RFR. Although I have nothing to announce regarding 2013, I feel the timing of this announcement gives RFR ample time to get things lined up."
The move makes Kenseth one of the most desirable free agents in NASCAR. Published reports have linked him to Joe Gibbs Racing, potentially with a fourth JGR team.
Kenseth's departure will also end the successful working relationship with RFR general manager Robbie Reiser, who gave Kenseth his first big break in NASCAR in 1997.
"Over the 20 years we have worked with each other, Matt has been a fierce competitor and become a close friend, not only for me, but as a mentor to young drivers like Ricky," said Reiser, who was once Kenseth's on-track rival on the short tracks of Wisconsin. "I wish Matt nothing but the best for the next phase of his career, and know that we'll remain close."
While Kenseth's Sprint Cup plans are uncertain, Stenhouse's are not. The 24-year-old driver has followed up his Nationwide Series title with three wins this year, earning Roush's confidence along the way.
"We feel that he is not only a key piece of our team's future, but a key piece of the future of the sport," Roush said. "Roush Fenway is an organization with a wonderful past and present, as well as an extremely promising future, and I can't think of a better candidate than Ricky to usher in the next era of success for the team."
In Tuesday's statement, Roush wished Kenseth well while reaffirming both driver and team's commitment to competing for the 2012 Sprint Cup crown.
"Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade," Roush said, "and we are extremely appreciative of his accomplishments and contributions to the team, and will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family."
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