Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Sprint Cup [Print without images]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Updated: June 27, 2:20 PM ET
Money -- or the lack of it -- talks

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Here's the sad truth in NASCAR today: No matter how good a driver is, even a former champion who leads the standings, it won't save him if he doesn't have a sponsor.

Roush Fenway Racing sent shockwaves through the Sprint Cup garage Tuesday by announcing Matt Kenseth was out and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was in the No. 17 Ford in 2013.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion who leads the 2012 standings, has raced all season without a primary sponsor. Jack Roush, with some help from Ford, has been footing the bill out of his own pocket.

That gets old, and empty, in a hurry at the Cup level. But this just looks awful.

For the moment, the potential 2012 champion is in limbo, something that certainly won't help his chances of winning that crown.

Roush/Kenseth
Jack Roush and Matt Kenseth have been together a long time, but their professional relationship is set to end in November.

Rumors swirled around the garage last weekend at Sonoma that Kenseth would sign with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013. Hopefully, that announcement will come soon. Otherwise, one of the most respected drivers in NASCAR is racing in no man's land.

Kenseth, 40, will race for someone next year in a quality ride. He remains one of the best drivers in the sport.

But for Roush to announce this move before midseason is highly unusual. Actually, it just flat stinks.

Let's talk numbers, as in money. Sources confirmed that Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide Series champion, has a contract with RFR that pays him a base salary somewhere around $250,000.

Kenseth is making north of 20 times that amount as his base. No doubt Stenhouse will get a bump in pay next year, but it won't be anywhere close to what Kenseth is making.

Therefore, no matter what happens with securing a new sponsor for the 17 team, Roush is saving a boatload of money.

Nothing against Stenhouse, a talented 24-year-old driver from Mississippi who deserves a shot at the Cup level. But it's a shame it has to come at Kenseth's expense.

This happens in every sport, of course. Older athletes making big money get shipped elsewhere for up-and-comers that cost a lot less. But making the announcement now is a little tawdry.

Kenseth has spent his entire NASCAR career with Roush. He has been RFR's anchor, so it's sad to see this happen now.

I assume the Texas Rangers won't announce tomorrow that Josh Hamilton isn't returning in 2013 and they will start a rookie in center field next year.

Maybe Roush knows something we don't, like Kenseth already cut a deal with Gibbs. Maybe Roush just doesn't want to endure a summer-long sideshow like he had last year when Carl Edwards was being courted by Gibbs and other teams before deciding to stay at RFR.

Whatever the reason, it's disappointing to see it go down this way for one of the real class acts in NASCAR. Kenseth is a quiet man, with a surprising dry wit that he shows every now and then, but he's not exactly a walking billboard for potential sponsors.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may be just the kind of fresh face sponsors want to see.

Honestly, it may be easier for the RFR marketing department to sell a handsome, young, single guy like Stenhouse to corporate America than it is a milquetoast old dad like Kenseth.

We'll see if Home Depot feels differently about it. The Kenseth news must be a little unsettling for 22-year-old Joey Logano, whom Home Depot sponsors in the No. 20 Toyota for JGR.

Logano won two weeks ago at Pocono and JGR officials said all is well. Joey is in its long-term plans. However, all that may hinge on finding a sponsor for a fourth car for Kenseth, or whatever Home Depot officials want.

Kenseth's free-agent status also is bad news for Kurt Busch, who hopes to act like a grownup (as he did Sunday in his third-place finish at Sonoma) and find a quality ride for 2013.

There was speculation that Busch's future could be at JGR with little brother Kyle. That appears doubtful now.

And it's not good news for Ryan Newman, who also doesn't have a 2013 sponsor in the No. 39 Chevy at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kenseth is going to get a ride that Busch or Newman might have gotten.

But this move is great news for 21-year-old Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner. Bayne also is under contract with Roush, but he doesn't have a full-time ride.

He likely will take Stenhouse's Nationwide ride next season and be in line for a fourth Cup car at RFR when sponsorship is secured.

Anytime you have a major driver move, some people win and some lose. What an odd celebration it will be at Homestead, Fla., in November if Kenseth wins his second Cup title.

If it happens, he will go out a winner. If it doesn't, he still goes out a winner. And Kenseth has many winning days ahead, wherever he ends up.