Last season, Carl Edwards flirted – secretly but heavily – with the idea of leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the team's No. 20 car.
Ultimately, given he was leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings at the time, Edwards elected to remain with Roush and go for a championship. He ended up losing it on a tiebreaker.
This season, Matt Kenseth was privately faced with a similar situation: Should he leave Roush for Gibbs' No. 20 car despite leading the point standings? Though his new team hasn't been officially announced, it appears that's exactly what Kenseth decided to do last week when he announced he would depart from Roush at season's end.
Now, the question is this: Is Kenseth giving up his shot at a championship by throwing his current team into a lame-duck status?
"(The goal) of the team and guys around me and even at the shop is to get all this behind us and realize it is up to us," Kenseth told reporters Friday at Kentucky Speedway. "It doesn't matter what is going on around us and what people are saying and all that."
But, he conceded, "that is difficult – especially if you haven't been in that spot."
What ultimately happens to Kenseth and his team is going to be an interesting case study. Few drivers in NASCAR history – if any – have announced their intention to leave for another team while leading the point standings.
Normally in a sport where performance is king, being No. 1 in the standings would be enough for the two sides to renew their vows. But for whatever reason – and Kenseth won't say exactly what went into the decision – he felt it was in his best interest to leave Roush.
So can the driver and the only team he's ever known put together one last run for old time's sake and win a championship together on the way out the door?
It would be both difficult and unprecedented.
When Edwards was considering leaving Roush last season, this is what Jeff Gordon said about the No. 99 team's Cup title prospects: "Let's say he's going somewhere else – they're done. I just don't see them winning the championship knowing that they're leaving."
"I'm not saying that just for Carl," he added. "It would (be) with anybody."
Clint Bowyer went through a similar lame-duck situation last year and said Friday he found it to be "catastrophic" once the departure announcement was made.
"Everybody sees the end of the road, the light at the end of the tunnel is near," Bowyer said. "For me, it was very hard to keep that momentum going. Everybody was kind of wanting to give up on the season and it get over with."
Bowyer's situation, though, differed from Kenseth's in that his No. 33 team wasn't in the Chase last year. Kenseth is obviously doing considerably better.
"Matt is a champion and he'll see this thing through the end," Bowyer said. "They'll be a team that is competing for the championship. That would just be pretty awesome to have a guy that's leaving race for a champoinship. That would be a good story for you guys."
Though he made a different decision for himself, Edwards didn't fault Kenseth when asked about his Roush teammate on Friday and said there was "no one more mentally tough than Matt Kenseth."
"He's a real professional," Edwards said. "He's going to be a threat to win this championship."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also went through a lame-duck situation at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before joining Hendrick Motorsports, said due to the professionalism of both Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig, it was unlikely the No. 17 team would falter anytime soon.
"Yeah, it does kind of test the personalities on board the ship a little bit," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But I think that group will weather it just fine."
Ultimately, the fate of Kenseth's team isn't easy to predict because we've rarely seen anything like this situation.
On the other hand, Tony Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb won a championship just last season knowing they'd be parting ways as soon as the final race was over.
"I think it is a distraction and everybody starts thinking about letting their mind wander," Kenseth acknowledged Friday. "But it is something for next year – not this year – and we have a ton of racing to do this year.
"We will all give it 100 percent and try to finish the season on a strong note."