Bayne’s Statement: I Want To Drive Every Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 28 2018

Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. He will soon become a part-time driver at Roush Fenway Racing and not a happy one from the sound of it. (File photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Trevor Bayne made it known Friday he is not exactly all-in on Roush Fenway Racing’s impending share-the-ride NASCAR Cup Series plan involving Matt Kenseth in the No. 6 Ford Fusion.

Bayne issued a statement prior to the opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway _ site of Sunday’s GEICO 500 _ addressing Kenseth’s brief un-retirement and return to RFR for an undetermined number of races in 2018. Bayne did not take questions after issuing the following statement:

“I appreciate you all (media) coming out here over to the hauler,” said Bayne, who has driven the No. 6 Ford fulltime the last three seasons. “The purpose of doing this is because I know how this works and I didn’t want everybody wasting their time chasing me around all weekend trying to get a quote. I have a brand new PR guy inside and I would like to break him in the right way.

“I wanted to get you all together to let you know that first of all, my health is 100 percent. I am as fit physically, mentally and spiritually as I have ever been to do my job well. The second part is that my desire is still as it has always been since I was 5-years-old to come to the track every weekend to contend for wins and championships and be a driver at the top level in the Cup Series. Nothing there has changed. I am still going to pursue that because I feel I have the ability to do that. Right now I don’t have much more to add to that.

“I want to respect your time and I know you have a ton of questions after everything that has happened this week. But if you could just allow me to come into the garage and talk to my team and work through this weekend, I would love to have that opportunity. I am here to win Talladega as I had planned to do before any of this. That is what I am going to do. That you guys so much. Again, I want to be respectful to you. Thanks.”

RFR co-owner Jack Roush joined his first star driver, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, in announcing Wednesday that Kenseth had agreed to return to the organization with whom he won the 2003 Cup championship. Kenseth, who unceremoniously lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season, will share the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford beginning with the Cup Series night race at Kansas Speedway on May 12.

A protégé of Martin, Kenseth drove Roush’s No. 17 Ford for 13 seasons _ a run that included the organization’s first Cup title as well as its historic 300th victory in the 2012 Daytona 500. “Matty Ice” moved from Roush to JGR’s Toyota organization beginning in 2013 but was released at the end of the 2017 season to make room for rising star Erik Jones in the No. 20 Camry.

Six months into living the life of an every-day “Gymnastics Dad,” Kenseth received a phone call from Roush about his interest in maybe returning in the roles of driver/mentor to Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while also giving the organization the big-name presence it sorely lacks.

While the exact number of races Kenseth will drive has yet to be determined, RFR President Steve Newmark confirmed during a  news conference on Wednesday that the 46-year-old Wisconsin native would compete in the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 19. Kenseth, Roush and Newmark agreed the deal likely will be long-term, extending beyond Matt’s driving days.

“We generally don’t get into details of the contract, but our view is that Matt will be with us for as long as we can,” Newmark said. “He and Jack have forged a pretty strong relationship and our role is to have Matt continuing to drive until he no longer has that desire, and knowing Matt that will be for many years into the future.”

Meanwhile, Stenhouse began his weekend as defending event champion answering inquiries about Kenseth’s return and how it might affect him. The first such inquiry was fired off in the second question of his morning news conference.

“I thought you would never ask! Just kidding,” said Stenhouse, driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford. “I think having Matt _ I got to work with Matt when I was in the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series at the time. He would run a couple races with us throughout the year and he was in our Cup cars. I leaned on Matt a lot my rookie year in the Nationwide Series. I called him and would ask him questions trying to figure out when I was struggling. I really had to get back on-track. I think he did a really good job with me on that.

“So fast-forward to now, after he left and went to Gibbs and drove different race cars, for me I’m looking forward to his feedback on how our cars drive relative to another organization that is clearly one of the class of the field. I think on that side I’m anxious to kind of see his feedback. On my side, I think there are a lot of things that I have yet to learn. When some of that is trying to get the most out of the race car without stepping out of the boundaries, I still struggle with that at times. For me I think it will be a win-win for myself and our team.”

Stenhouse said he did not see Kenseth as a dedicated engineer, someone hired to overhaul the team’s cars.

“Like I said, I will be asking Matt a ton of questions and Trevor will as well,” said Stenhouse, whose win here last spring was the first of his Cup career.  “Trying to get as much feedback as we can on the championship ways that Matt has and winning races. On the driver side, I think it will be up to Trevor and I to ask questions and get that feedback, but I think on the car side all of us drivers have certain little things that we like in race cars. I feel like I have kind of got some of my things that I enjoy having in a race car and every time we have it in we run better. I think some of those things that Matt may have had from years past and the previous teams he’s ran might be able to bring some of that over as well.”

Given Bayne’s carefully worded statement, Stenhouse was asked if he views Kenseth’s arrival as welcome relief or another serving of stress.

“I don’t think it’s stressful for myself,” Stenhouse said. “I’m looking forward to getting the feedback from Matt on cars, driving things, really all across the board. I have talked to Trevor. I told him that I have been through this in a totally different series and probably a lot different stage in life. I told him just to keep his head down, go out and keep running races and prove to everybody that you have what it takes and don’t really listen to anything from the fans, media or other teams and just do your deal. That was the feedback that I gave him.”

Stenhouse, the 2011 and 2012 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion for RFR, raced alongside Bayne in that series before reuniting in Cup. Answering a hypothetical question, Stenhouse said he did not see Bayne returning to Xfinity to retrain a fulltime ride.

“I think for Trevor, I want us both to keep performing better than what we are,” said Stenhouse, 19th in Cup points. “I’m not happy with our performance. I know Trevor is not happy with their performance (26th in points).”

Neither Stenhouse nor Bayne has won one of NASCAR’s all-important “stages” this season, meaning neither has a playoff point. Stenhouse’s best finish in nine starts is a fourth-place run at Bristol Motor Speedway. Stenhouse, 30, scored his two Cup wins last season in restrictor plate races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway.

Bayne, 27, has recorded a best result of 12th at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth this season. His lone victory to-date was huge _ the 2011 Daytona 500 while driving the famed No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing.

“Really, I would just like to see us both elevate our performance throughout the season,” Stenhouse said. “No different than we talked about last year within our organization that we wanted to continue to get better and we have charts in our shop that we try to mark off goals each and every week. Driver, pit crews, car performances, things like that. We want to keep elevating that.

“As far as helping our Xfinity guys, that’s something I have been asking for. They have all the races filled up. Trevor and I over the last three years have been asking to run some Xfinity cars but really haven’t had the opportunity. I got to run one maybe last year or the year before. Since I have been out of the Xfinity Series since 2012 I’ve only ran two races. I’m bummed about that. Before they (NASCAR) limited the amount of races you (Cup regulars) could run, I wanted to run both series fulltime but wasn’t ever able to. It would be nice to go down and help the Xfinity guys and see if we could get that program going a little bit better as well.”

Once the flagship of Ford Motor Company in Cup, RFR has slipped to third behind Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing on the Blue Oval pecking order. Consider that SHR’s Kevin Harvick won three of the first four Cup races this season, while teammate Clint Bowyer added another. While Roger Penske’s drivers have yet to win this season, newcomer Ryan Blaney has been a consistent front-runner on a team already featuring 2012 Cup champ Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Stenhouse said he believes both RFR teams have begun to close the gap against RFR’s fellow-Blue Oval organizations.

“We were looking back at our performances last year at Texas, Bristol and Richmond and I think our finish was better at Richmond but our green-flag average was about the same,” Stenhouse said. “Looking at Texas, our green-flag average was the same as last year. Bristol we were a little better than we were last year. No doubt they’re good racetracks for us and I feel like our cars performed better at those racetracks right now for some reason. I look back at last year and feel like I got better finishes out of Richmond and Texas and I want to be able to cap those races off. Our good tracks, we have to cap those races off with good finishes.

“I think we’re definitely learning with our cars and definitely are in a better spot right now than where we were going to Las Vegas so that’s a positive. Every time I show up to the racetrack I feel our cars are getting better and trending in the right direction. I just have to not make as many mistakes so we can get the finishes the team deserves.”

Kenseth will return to the series with 39 Cup victories, 181 top-fives, 327 top-10s and 18 poles. The Cambridge, Wis., native also is one of only six drivers in the sport’s 75-year history to win a Cup championship, the Cup Rookie of the Year Award and the Daytona 500. Kenseth was shown the door at JGR after having qualified for NASCAR’s playoffs in 13 of its 14 seasons.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 28 2018
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