LOUDON, N.H. — The parting of ways between veteran championship-caliber athletes and their organizations has become familiar of late in Boston.
In many respects, Matt Kenseth’s decision two weeks ago to not re-sign with Roush Fenway Racing for 2013 as driver of the No. 17 Ford seemed to mirror the departures of Ray Allen from the Celtics and Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox.
As was the case at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox traded Youkilis to make room for Will Middlebrooks, car owner Jack Roush tabbed emerging Nationwide Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to fill the void left by Kenseth’s decision.
While Kenseth remained tight-lipped about where he will land next season, it has been widely rumored he will end up driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota presently occupied by Joey Logano.
Asked Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway if he could shed any light on his plans for 2013, Kenseth replied, “No.’’
When did he hope to make an announcement?
“I hoped to do it a couple of weeks ago,’’ Kenseth said. “I don’t know when it’s going to happen. You guys will know the same time I do, I guess.’’
Entering Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301, the partnership between Roush Fenway and Kenseth has produced 22 victories in 454 starts. Among Kenseth’s highlights at Roush Fenway: victories in the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500s and the 2003 NASCAR title, which led to the advent of the Chase for the Championship.
“We’ve had a great relationship for the 14, 15 years I’ve been there,’’ Kenseth said. “I got there in ’97 and started hanging out with Mark [Martin] and Jimmy [Fennig] and testing with those guys and getting introduced to the organization, so it’s been a long time. We’ve got a great relationship. I really don’t think that will change. We’ll get through this and still be friends.’’
The only difference, though, is that Kenseth, who sits atop the Sprint Cup points standings, will remain with Roush Fenway until the end of the season. It seemed to create some awkwardness within the team after Kenseth announced at Kentucky he was pursuing an opportunity with another team.
Asked how Roush and Stenhouse received the news, Kenseth replied, “Probably opposite reactions. Obviously, Ricky is probably loving me right now more than anybody else is, and I think Jack is probably disappointed, but we’ll work through that.’’
After Kenseth made his decision, Roush met with the media to offer his reaction.
“I will say that I was as surprised as most of you must have been when I learned that he would not be signing with us to go forward,’’ Roush said. “It was a surprise and I had no idea that we were at that point.
“His leaving the team creates a window — a hole, if you like — [for which we have] very capable, able, ready, enthusiastic, motivated, and ambitious drivers.’’
Those apprentices were Stenhouse, the reigning Nationwide Series champion, and Trevor Bayne, who stunned the racing world last year when he became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500, having turned 20 the day before the race.
“The plan is for Trevor to be in some kind of full-time ride next year [in Stenhouse’s Nationwide Series ride or in a fourth Cup team] and, of course, Ricky is the heir apparent to the 17 program,’’ Roush said. “There is not an understanding or an impression that [general manager] Robbie Reiser or I have that there will be a mass exodus. The key people are very committed to what we are doing and very committed to winning a championship.
“If it works out that [Kenseth] has that opportunity, there will be no diminished effort to make the very most of what time we have left together.’’
Stenhouse, meanwhile, will bide his time on the Nationwide Series.
The 24-year-old started 21st and finished 20th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and is expected to make Cup starts this season at Charlotte and Texas in preparation for his promotion.
“I don’t know if we’re set on the [car] number yet, but I’ll take whatever,’’ said Stenhouse. “As long as we’re racing in Cup, whatever is fine with me. If we’re on the 17, I think it’ll take the fans longer to get used to than us.”
Stenhouse said he learned of his promotion from Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark.
“I was shocked to hear about it,’’ Stenhouse said. “We had been talking about running Cup full time, but as a fourth team.
“Matt’s been a great supporter of mine. He’s helped me out a lot. It all came as a shock to everyone at Roush Fenway, but we’re going to make the best of it. Matt’s doing a great job this year, and making the sponsors happy. Hopefully, it makes them happy enough that they’ll stay with us.’’
Roush refuted the notion that lack of sponsorship for the 17 — not only for next season, but this season — fueled Kenseth’s decision to leave the team.
“This is a challenging time for sponsorships,’’ Roush said. “It is tough for everybody. You find that there is hardly a car in the garage that runs one sponsor with the kind of singular support appearance that we had in the ’80s and ’90s.
“There was no predisposition that we were limited to what we would do with Matt going forward based on the sponsorships that were there. We’ve been very much encouraged and had encouraging conversations with all the sponsors around the 17 team and the other programs we have sought sponsorships for.
“We think we have seen the bottom of the well as far as the shortage of sponsors. Certainly there was not a sponsorship reason why Matt’s future with Roush Fenway was in doubt, before or during negotiations.”
In turning to Stenhouse, it appears Roush Fenway is looking to a more vibrant personality to help lure new sponsors.
In that sense, they seemed to seize upon the promise of Stenhouse’s youth and talent in the same way the Red Sox did with Middlebrooks.
It was a comparison that was not lost on Stenhouse.
“Obviously, Will Middlebrooks is a great baseball player and he’s shown his talent in the minor leagues and obviously he’s already shown it this year as well,’’ Stenhouse said.
“He showed it with the grand slam he hit for his first home run, so he’s been very impressive. He went in there and didn’t think about the pressure and did what he had to do and did what he knew how to do.
“And that’s what I’ve got to do next year. I’ve got to drive the racecar as best I can and give the feedback as best I can, and I think we’ll be able to succeed.’’