News broke Wednesday that Erik Jones would replace Matt Kenseth in the #20 Dollar General car for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Jones would depart Furniture Row Racing and its #77 car at the end of the season. While the move makes sense, Kenseth is far from being out of NASCAR. Joe Gibbs Racing is having a slow season after dominating most of last year. None of their drivers (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kenseth) have made it to Victory Lane. That is not to say Kenseth has been part of the problem. He has had competitive cars. If Kenseth were at the end of his career, it might be understandable, but there is a bigger problem looming behind this move.
- Problem #1: Sponsorship: Clearly the sponsors feel that Matt Kenseth is not worth giving their name for anymore. This is despite the 2017 season getting Kenseth a cool new sponsor in Circle K, the gas station/convenience store chain. The fact that people will not support the still strong Kenseth tells you the state of the sport right now. Is Erik Jones the next best thing? Definitely. Does it mean we should be giving up on sponsoring Kenseth? No way.
- Problem #2: Sponsorship, Again: Now, with Kenseth looking for a new ride in 2018, it is not impossible that his career could end prematurely. There are rides rumored to be available next year (#5 Hendrick; #10 Stewart-Haas) aside of the ones known to be available (#88 Hendrick; #77 Furniture Row). In any of those teams, Kenseth could still be super competitive. However, if these guys cannot line up the sponsors for Kenseth, it is possible he may not have a ride for the 2018 season, which would be unfortunate. If one of these teams can find sponsorship, they can sign a Hall of Famer.
- Problem #3: The 4-Team Rule: This one reeks of old man yelling at cloud, but the rule instituted in 2010 that a team can only have up to 4 cars under its stable has to go. Joe Gibbs Racing is now finding itself in a problem of too many drivers for too many rides. Busch, Hamlin, Suarez and Kenseth already own the four rides for Joe Gibbs and while they have the farm team in Furniture Row Racing, a 5th team would make this a non-issue. We already have a situation where we cannot fill a full field because of the new 40-car/charter system-based field. We have had races of 38 and 39 drivers and when the main series cannot attract enough teams, there is reason to be concerned.
- If a 5th team existed for Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, they would benefit immensely given all the top prospects coming through their systems in William Byron and Erik Jones. NASCAR would benefit from a 43-car field again with a team allowed the 5th car again. If there is too much talent, there needs to be room for it. Restricting the field to 40 cars is absurd. It is something that should never have been proposed with the charter system. So it goes.
Matt Kenseth is a great driver but this move to get Erik Jones in the 20 car has shown the flaws of the system NASCAR instituted. It may sound like a great way to keep the parity down, it does not work. Matt Kenseth will find a ride in 2018, sponsorship depending. NASCAR would not benefit from losing him completely.