The time is now for Matt Kenseth ... and for a lot of reasons.
It was announced earlier this week that Kenseth was parting ways after this season with the only team he has ever driven for in his 13 seasons in NASCAR Sprint Cup, Roush Fenway Racing. It seemed a bit odd that Kenseth would go elsewhere considering that he is leading the point standings going into Saturday's 7:30 p.m. race Kentucky to be shown on TNT.
That Kenseth will be changing teams next year, isn't good news for his competition. Last year's champion, Tony Stewart, proved that a team with big changes coming, can indeed win the title. That was the case when Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb split.
He has already said he has a deal in place for 2013, so he's also racing without the extra pressure to win for himself, but the motivation to win for others on his team.
Another reason Kenseth, who won the Sprint Cup title in 2003, needs to win now is that the clock is ticking for him. He turned 40 in March and while history tells us it's not impossible to win a title at age 40 or older (Stewart turned 40 during his title run last year), it also tells us that Sprint Cup titles usually go to the younger generation.
Stewart's run to the title was the exception, not the rule, when it comes to the ages of Sprint Cup winners. Of the 28 drivers to win a Sprint Cup title, only six have done at 40 years older (Terry Labonte was six days shy of his 40th birthday when the season ended in 1996, so can't count him). However, of the 63 NASCAR Sprint Cup titles won, only 11 have come when the driver was 40 or older.
Before Stewart last year, the last 40-plus year old driver to win the title was Dale Jarrett, who was 42 when the season ended in 1999. You would think, with today's emphasis on keeping in better physical condition, the trend would be for more 40-plus year old drivers to win titles. The fact is though, it just doesn't happen a lot.
Dale Earnhardt won three titles after turning 40 in 1991 and 93-94, and Lee Petty won three titles after age 40 in 1954 and 1958-59. The oldest driver to win a title was Bobby Allison, who was 45 when the 1983 season ended.
So, it won't be impossible for Kenseth to capture another crown. But the clock is not going to stop for him. So, NASCAR isn't really much different than the rest of the major professional sports. It's mostly for the younger generation. Kenseth could become another exception to the rule as early as this season. And whichever team that has apparently already signed him, heavily rumored to be Joe Gibbs Racing, knows they will be getting a quality person with no extra-curricular issues to deal with as Kenseth is one of NASCAR's good guys. So maybe that will help his odds of winning again.
But the numbers tell us different, whether we like it or not.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
The Sprint Cup series makes its second trip to Kentucky Speedway and apparently the track has made significant improvements in its traffic flow patterns (mainly by adding more parking space) so more fans can actually get into their seats to watch the race instead of listening to it on the radio while they sit in long lines.
This is a bit of a difficult week to predict, since there is only one race to go off, but here we go.
Kyle Busch - He won here last year. Whether his engine can last an entire race will be the big question.
Jimmie Johnson - He's king of the 1.5-mile tracks and he's driving with a special paint scheme to commemorate classic Chevys from the 1960s, He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each won with special paint schemes at Dover and Michigan, so why not again?
Tony Stewart - Kentucky and Darlington are the two active Sprint Cup tracks he has not won on, and other than Indianapolis, this is as close to home as Stewart will race this year. He did finish 12th at Kentucky last year.
Brad Keselowski - He finished seventh last year, but had 31 of the fastest laps run during the race, the second most behind Busch.
Matt Kenseth - Wouldn't it be dramatic to see him in Victory Lane after this week's news and he did finish sixth last year.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Clint Bowyer won last week, but that was a road course, which is, of course, much different than the usual ovals that NASCAR runs on. While Bowyer has been improving as the season has gone on, it's hard to pick him at Kentucky.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Sonoma.
Jeff Gordon: 5th. Overcame running out of gas to rally for a good finish.
Tony Stewart: 2nd. A nice drive, coming from 24th with only two cautions all day
Juan Pablo Montoya: 34th. Sort of ironic that his ex-crew chief was celebrating in Victory Lane at the end of the day
Marcos Ambrose: 8th. He led 11 laps early, but was disappointed he didn't contend for the win.
Boris Said: 29th. Disappointed here, too, but yes, I'll pick him again at Watkins Glen.
Here's a look at my results after 16 races and 80 picks.
30 top fives
38 top 10s
Grade for the week: B- No victory this week, and Montoya's effort was the killer here. Took a shot with Boris Said, but maybe not enough Said Head karma was going on Sunday. Where are the Said Heads when I need them? Stewart methodically went through the field all day. Four or five more laps, maybe he would have caught eventual winner Clint Bowyer.
One Last Thing: This is no surprise, but in case you were wondering, Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers with wins at 1.5 mile tracks with 16.