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Matt Kenseth doesn't expect to race for Joe Gibbs next season

SPARTA, Ky. -- Matt Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series champion who has 38 career Cup race victories, doesn't expect to return to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.

The 45-year-old Kenseth didn't go into details, but he said Friday morning that he does not have a ride for 2018. He is winless this year and 11th in the Cup standings, teetering on the brink of a playoff berth.

"I do not think I will have the option to race for JGR next year, unfortunately," Kenseth said prior to practice at Kentucky Speedway.

Team owner Joe Gibbs responded to Kenseth's statement Saturday before the race.

"Matt's statement kind of stands on its own," he said. "We love Matt. Right now, it's kind of a tough time for everybody -- we're kind of working through some stuff."

JGR likely would replace Kenseth in its No. 20 Cup car with Erik Jones, whom JGR allowed to sign a one-year Cup contract with JGR affiliate Furniture Row Racing for 2017.

Gibbs, however, said of the prospect of Jones replacing Kenseth, "There is quite a bit up in the air."

Jones, 17th in the Cup standings, said Thursday that he didn't know where he would race in 2018.

"I'm just driving," Jones said. "For the most part, for me -- I don't know where I'm going to be yet. They haven't let me know.

"So for me, I've been really happy at Furniture Row, and it's been a steady group of guys over there that I think work really well together. I don't yet. Hopefully I know soon. It's kind of getting down to that point. I guess it's July now, so I'm sure we'll have an answer here soon."

Kenseth could replace Jones at Furniture Row, and his name also has been mentioned as a possible driver to replace the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick team owner Rick Hendrick said Saturday that he had no timetable to make a decision and was not feeling pressure to name a replacement soon.

"I haven't really worked on anything real hard [for next year]. ... I don't really have anything to talk about for what I am doing," Kenseth said. "At this point, I don't have anything going on for next year."

Earnhardt, who has battled Kenseth throughout their careers, said Kenseth is too good not to have a ride next season and doesn't believe Kenseth will join him among the retired from full-time Cup racing.

"Matt is going to have a job," Earnhardt said. "I don't think he's got to worry about that. ... He is so good, so talented, that he'll be in a great car with a great opportunity next year, no less than what he has this year."

A full-time Cup driver since 2000, Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. He finished second in the standings in his first year at JGR and has 14 wins with the organization.

"I'm not really worried about it," Kenseth said. "As of today, I do not have a job for next year, so I certainly hope to still be racing. I think I've got some wins left in me and hopefully can race for championships.

"Right now, my focus is on finishing up this year."

Kenseth is riding a 34-race winless streak and has had three top-5s and six top-10s in 17 races this season.

"It has not been a good year at all -- not nearly up to my standards or my team standards," Kenseth said.