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Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing make reunion official

Kenseth is returning to the NASCAR Cup Series to drive Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car in a select number of races this season.

AAA Texas 500 - Practice Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing is official with the NASCAR team announcing Wednesday that Kenseth will drive its No. 6 car in select Cup Series races this season.

Kenseth will share the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne, who’s driven that car full-time since 2015 but will now move into a part-time role with Roush Fenway. The exact number of races Kenseth and Bayne will compete in for the remainder of the season has not been determined, but Kenseth is likely to be in the car for 18 of the remaining 28 races. Bayne has sponsorship from AdvoCare for 10 more races this season.

Kenseth drove full-time for Roush Fenway from 2000-2012, winning the 2003 Cup Series championship and scoring 24 of his 39 career victories, before leaving the organization to join Joe Gibbs Racing where he raced full-time until the end of the 2017 season. The 46-year-old Kenseth lost his ride with JGR after the team elected to replace him with Erik Jones, 21, a decision largely based on economics and sponsorship.

Unable to land a top-tier ride for the 2018 season that offered him an opportunity to race competitively on a consistent basis, Kenseth opted to step away. He said he was not retiring, but would only return if the right opportunity presented itself and missed the first nine races of the season sitting out.

Kenseth’s first race in his return to Roush Fenway is May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Roush Fenway also announced Wyndham Hotels & Resorts will sponsor Kenseth and the No. 6 team in an undisclosed number of races.

“I’m looking forward to going to Kansas,” Kenseth said. “Obviously, it means a lot to me to reunite with everybody at Roush Fenway Racing and I’m really looking forward to the challenge and really looking forward to getting to work soon.”

The reunion of Kenseth and Roush Fenway is spurred by the organization attempting to reverse a steady performance decline. It has not won a non- restrictor-plate race since 2014, and issues with sponsorship has resulted in the team contracting from a high of five full-time teams in 2009 to its current status as a two-car operation. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drives Roush Fenway’s No. 17 car full-time.

Roush Fenway is hoping Kenseth’s experience and ability will help transform the team, both in the immediate and long-term. Kenseth said he is unsure whether he will resume racing full-time in 2019, but was open to a management position within the company when he does retire. Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway president, said the team was focused on 2018 and not planning its driver lineup for next season.

“To us, this is an incredible opportunity,” Newmark said. “… We look at Matt as the best in the business at helping to assess and diagnose and figure out how to make cars better. So our goal is to continue to race for wins and championships and we think Matt gives us a great opportunity to do that and will help Trevor, Ricky and all of our young guys in Xfinity (Series).”

Said Kenseth: “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 in.”

Bayne is currently 26th in the Cup Series points standings entering Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, with a best finish of 12th this season. He has never finished better than 22nd in the yearend standings in three full seasons with Roush Fenway, and owns one career win in 175 starts in NASCAR’s top division — coming in the 2011 Daytona 500.

Newmark told reporters that Bayne, who has multiple sclerosis, is healthy and no other factors other than performance prompted reducing him to part-time driver of the No. 6 car. And Roush Fenway starting a third car specifically for Kenseth was not feasible for competitive reasons.

“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,” Newmark said. “He will continue to be in the car and we hope that Matt’s assistance with all of this will elevate not only Trevor’s performance, [but] Ricky’s performance.”