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KENSETH COMEBACK PAIN FOR BAYNE
Sometimes to go forward you have look backwards. So, in hopes of a brighter future Roush Fenway Racing has turned to a blast from the past, enticing Matt Kenseth to return to share the No. 6 car with Trevor Bayne during the remainder of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season.
Although the schedule between the two has not been completed, we do know Kenseth will get back behind the wheel at Kansas in two weeks and in the all-star race with Wyndham Rewards, the loyalty program of the Wyndam Hotel Group, as his primary sponsor. That brings a smile to the "Cat in the Hat" Jack Roush, but this could be a lingering pain to Bayne.
While still a winning driver, in favor of Erik Jones, Kenseth was forced to the sidelines at the end of last season as the odd man out at Joe Gibbs Racing. A driver of his caliber was certainly offered other rides, but Kenseth stayed true to his word he'd play spectator rather than compete in an uncompetitive car.
Funny thing when Roush reached out to see if Kenseth would be interested in helping them out his only question is why it had taken so long?
"I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did," said Roush. "We had another championship out there, I thought, that we could have had in short order. I missed that, so it took me a little while to get over it."
Kenseth, who left Roush at the end of 2012 after winning 24 races and the 2003 Monster Energy Cup Series Championship, had no misgivings about going back to work for the most instrumental man in his racing career. "It feels like the right deal at the right time. It's with Jack. It's an interesting challenge for me and not just being a driver, I hope I can be much more to the organization and I'm hoping that there are a lot of different ways I can help," said Kenseth. "I feel like there are a lot of advantages to where they are at right now, and I'm looking forward to getting in there and being a part of it and getting back immersed in the organization and kind of hopefully evaluate some things, hopefully continue projecting upwards."
"The timing, I know to you guys it might seem weird, but the timing was right and it was the right deal. It's exciting bringing a new sponsor into the sport at the same time and it all just lined up and seemed like the right thing at the right time."
You can certainly understand why Bayne might not feel the same way. "I think he reacted just the way any of us would," admitted Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark. "He's a fierce competitor. We continue to have a dialogue and I think he'll see this as an opportunity to continue to excel, but there's no doubt that when we had the dialogue about it that his first reaction was 'I want to be in the car every week.' In fact, we wouldn't want it any other way. If we had a driver who just kind of acquiesced, that would be an inherent problem in itself."
"Our goal is to have Trevor continue to grow and mature on the track, which as you know he's one of the highest character guys in the garage and we're proud of having him as part of our family."
But how does Kenseth go about mentoring a guy unhappy about losing seat time or maybe, at some point, his job all together? "I have not spoken to Trevor yet. I was going to give that a week or so to settle down. My hope is that after a few days when things kind of shake out, my hope is we can get together face-to-face, hopefully next week and sit and have a long talk because I really feel like there are a lot of things I could probably help him with. My hope is that he embraces that and turns this into something to drive him and he can get better."
Knowing Bayne, he'll probably take the high road, but he's seen this movie before and for guys like him it seldom has a fairy tale ending. I certainly believe Roush would sincerely like to see Bayne succeed within in his organization, however they have only two Cup teams and unless Bayne wins one of the next two races at Talladega and Dover it's going to stay that way. If Kenseth starts running well or wins a race, it might not be long before the music stops and Bayne is left without a chair.
This is where this business can be tough. Bayne is one of the most likeable guys in the garage area, a stand-up Christian you'd love to have talk to your church youth group. The 27-year-old's life is a great testimony, but besides winning the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers in one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, there isn't much else in the cupboard. With a couple of Xfinity Series wins on his stat sheet, in 175 Cup starts Bayne's collected only five top-5 and 16 top-10 finishes.
To be fair Roush Fenway Racing has struggled in recent years to have competitive cars so it's not all Bayne's fault, but beginning last season their cars have clearly picked up speed and the numbers the 6 car has been racking up don't reflect that. Truth be told, Bayne has also had his share of plain bad luck and Kenseth is not going to instantly be a consistent front runner or checkered flag contender.
However, let's also be honest about the fact even at age 46 Kenseth is a better driver than Bayne, who grudgingly would probably admit that too. Kenseth proved he can still win races last season when he won Phoenix in the fall. Plus, with 39 overall victories and a title, he's a sure bet, first ballot Hall of Famer. There's no comparison in experience or pedigree.
"I feel like I can be a real asset in a lot of different ways besides just driving," Kenseth explained. "I hope that turns out to be true, so it's as much about that as it is driving the race cars. I'm really competitive, obviously, with whatever I do and if I'm not in the car, there's nothing I want more than Ricky or Trevor to be out there running up front and improving and doing better and working hard at it and hopefully being successful."
Kenseth is sure to improve Roush's entire organization and will find some success on the track. I can't see, though, where this is anything but bad news for Bayne. He surely hopes I'm wrong and, frankly, I hope I am.