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Matt Kenseth feels a mix of disappointment and relief as he prepares to leave NASCAR

Dave Kallmann, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on

Published in Auto Racing

"Got to work with a lot great people, got a great family at home, got a lot to look forward to looking forward. There's nothing to be too disappointed or upset about. At the end of the day, JGR did exactly what they committed to, and so did I."

Kenseth said he began to see the handwriting on the wall as Gibbs and Toyota worked with Furniture Row Racing to build a second Cup team for Jones to team with Martin Truex Jr. this season.

Kenseth was still hopeful of finding a spot with a winning team until late this summer when Hendrick Motorsports hired 24-year-old Alex Bowman and 19-year-old William Byron for its two openings next year.

"There's probably opportunities to go do something if you want to just want to go do something, but I've been fortunate throughout my career that I've felt the top teams all wanted me and wanted me to be over there and do all that," Kenseth said.

"July or August, that's when I probably knew in my heart it probably wasn't meant to be to continue racing at this level."

Over the past four years, Kenseth has seen many of his peers bow out.

Jeff Burton, one of Kenseth's first NASCAR Cup Series teammates and a longtime friend, announced in 2013 he'd be heading for the TV booth. He was 46 at the time.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon said in January 2015 that the season would be his farewell tour. He did race in NASCAR again, although those eight starts in 2016 were as a fill-in for injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon was 45 when he stepped out of a stock car for the final time.

Then three-time champion Tony Stewart said late in 2015 that 2016 would be his final year. Stewart was the driver Kenseth beat for his first victory in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series in 1998. He's older than Kenseth, but just by 10 months.

Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards abruptly called a news conference in January and revealed he was stepping away from NASCAR at age 37.

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