BACK IN THE GAME

NASCAR report: What is next for Roush Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne?

Matt Kenseth is back. But what does it all mean? NASCAR.com

SB Nation Automotive reporter Jordan Bianchi announced yesterday that 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Matt Kenseth would be coming out of “retirement.”  Kenseth will be driving the No. 6 Advocare Ford for his former boss Jack Roush. Kenseth will be spliting time with the team’s current driver, Trevor Bayne. His first start will come at Kansas Motor Speedway on May 12.   This was a shocking revelation for all NASCAR fans including myself.

Last November at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth informed NASCAR’s NBC reporter Nate Ryan that he would be “stepping away from the sport” in 2018.  Fans initially assumed this would just be a short break but later it became more and more likely that when the checkered flag flew at the season finale in Homestead, he would ride off into the sunset.   This announcement changes things.

 Jack Roush’s decision to put Kenseth in the No. 6 car leads to many questions, such as how many races will Kenseth run?  What will happen to current driver Trevor Bayne? Who will drive the No. 6 car for 2019? Most importantly, why make this decision 10 races into the season?  I hope to give some insight on why this is happening now, and what we think we can expect moving forward.

Unfortunately, Bayne has had a season to forget.  Bayne is currently sitting at 21st in points and with an average finish of 23.9.  This change at this point in the season may be surprising, but it isn’t exactly unprecedented.  In 2010 When Ricky Stenhouse Jr was a rookie in the NASCAR Xfinity series, he hit everything but the pace car.  Stenhouse’s season started out with 4 out of his 10 starts ending in crashes. Stenhouse sat out for three races while Brian Ickler filled in for him.   

Stenhouse returned and went on to an impressive third-place finish at Daytona and scored seven top-10s during the remaining season. The next two seasons, Stenhouse went on to win two NASCAR Xfinity championships and was called up to Cup series in 2013, replacing ironically enough Matt Kenseth in the 17 car.  Could this just be Jack Roush trying to motivate Bayne like he did with Stenhouse? This would be my guess seeing how this is something the owner did in the past that seemed to work. Stenhouse has had a great deal of success in both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series, winning two races last year. Roush and fans are hoping that Kenseth will be the incentive that Bayne needs to become a better race car driver.

NASCAR fans I am sure are all wondering if Kenseth will return as a full-time driver for 2019?  Learning Kenseth was returning to the cup series many (including myself) thought that the veteran driver would replace Bayne altogether.  While this is still not out of the realm of possibility, I think it is somewhat unlikely.

Kenseth is 46 years old and more than likely he was already closer to retiring than we think.  While yes, there have been outliers like Mark Martin, who drove well into his fifties, this is not typical. Martin considered retirement at least three times before he actually decided to finally hang it up, running part time in his first “retirement” years in 2007 and 2008 and finally retiring with a full schedule for 2009.

Martin was in a much better situation than Kenseth is currently. Martin was driving for a championship caliber team at Hendrick Motorsports, while Kenseth is inheriting a car and team that is 26th in points. As much as I would like to say that he is going to run the full season next year, I just don’t see it happening unless their performance gets TREMENDOUSLY better.

Could this be Bayne’s choice? Unfortunately, he has not had any success since his 2011 Daytona 500 victory with the Wood Brothers.  During his full-time tenure at Roush, his best points finish was 22nd in 2016 and 2017. While he has shown flashes of potential, he has simply not been running well, and as a driver that must wear on him.

Look at Greg Biffle;  while he was much older when he decided to leave NASCAR and Roush Racing, he became discouraged when he wasn’t getting the results and has not raced since. While it would seem unlikely to think that a race car driver at the age of 27 would want to give up full time racing there are other factors for Bayne.  In 2012, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He seems to have this under control and is maintaining his grueling 36-race schedule but could he possibly be tired of the grind or is this schedule affecting his health? Could he want to spend more time with his ever-growing family?

So, what is next?  In my opinion, I do not believe Kenseth or Bayne will be racing full time next season.   Maybe Jack Roush decides to use a new driver in the No. 6 car or just run one car next season. I would love to see Bayne move to the Xfinity series and try to revitalize his career there, or maybe he will just stop racing all together.   I also believe that Kenseth will return to retirement once he has run all scheduled races. I could be wrong, as it has also been rumored that Kenseth and Stenhouse will switch teams to give Kenseth his old number back. Should be interesting to see what is next for this team as we watch all of this unfold.  

 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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