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Friday 5: Mark Martin still a dealmaker after all these years

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Matt Kenseth’s start with Roush Fenway Racing began with Mark Martin, and Kenseth’s return also was initiated by his former teammate.

It was Martin — two decades after he pushed car owner Jack Roush to sign the Wisconsin driver — who put things in motion for Kenseth to reunite with Roush Fenway Racing this week.

Kenseth will drive the No. 6 Ford in select races this season, sharing the ride with Trevor Bayne. Kenseth’s first race in the car will be May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Kenseth also will drive in the All-Star Race the following week. The rest of Kenseth’s schedule has not been announced.

Kenseth told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after Wednesday’s announcement that Martin was the first to reach out to him about returning to Roush Fenway Racing.

“I’ve heard a lot from Mark over the last couple of weeks, last few weeks,” Kenseth told Snider. “Jack has meant a lot to Mark. Mark has meant a lot to the organization. He was instrumental in trying to get all the parties together to make something happen.’’

An intermediary was needed. Roush admitted he struggled to get past the hurt feelings from when Kenseth left the team after the 2012 season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did,’’ Roush said. “We had another championship out there, I thought, that we could have had in short order. I missed that, so it took me a little while to get over it.”

Martin was just as forceful in getting Kenseth in the beginning. Martin sought Kenseth two decades ago before a drivers meeting at Talladega in what is now the Xfinity Series. They talked for several minutes.

“I knew where I came from,’’ Martin said, referring to Midwest short-track racing. “I knew where Rusty came from. I knew where Alan Kulwicki came from. I knew what it took to do what we did. I knew that Matt had been doing what we did. That was enough for me. That was enough for me to seek him out.

“I talked to him. I went straight from him to the trailer with Jack and I told Jack right then — because I don’t mess around — I said: “You’ve got to get this dude, we’ve got to get this guy signed. I know you don’t have a place for him, I know you don’t have anything to do for him, (but) you’ve got to get this guy. He’s the guy.’ ‘’

Kenseth signed a testing contract with Roush before the 1998 season and ran five Cup races in 1999 for the team. He went on to win Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2000 and the 2003 Cup title.

“He delivered something I was never able to do – Jack Roush a Cup championship,’’ Martin said of Kenseth. “That means a lot. To me that is big. In other words, it feels good to be right.’’

Now, Martin looks to be right again.

2. Restrictor-plate nuances

After leading a race-high 118 laps in the Daytona 500 and finishing seventh, it would have been easy for Ryan Blaney to look back upon the season-opening race with regret.

Blaney, who also won his qualifying race at Daytona that week, admits he watched the 500 twice that night before moving on.

“You can’t dwell on things too much,’’ Blaney said. “If you dwell on that, you’re taking your mind off the important things like what’s upcoming.’’

But there’s one thing Blaney is looking back upon. Daytona Speedweeks was the first time for the no ride-height rule at restrictor-plate tracks and it made an impact.

“Honestly, we were learning new things because those cars drafted a lot differently with the no ride-height rule,’’ Blaney said. “It was harder to be the leader and block lanes and runs were massive and your car didn’t handle as good.’’

The three major crashes in the Daytona 500 all started in the top three and were a result of a car getting a big run or blocking. Cars made big runs throughout the race and that made it more difficult to time blocks.

“I’m sure some drivers talked about it was hard to make aggressive moves and make sharp turns because the cars were all over the place,’’ Blaney said. “Now I think they’re going to change that up a little bit to where our cars can drive better. You have to have speed, obviously, but you have to be able to make sharp turns and moves and we saw some wrecks in the 500 because guys couldn’t do that or they tried and it didn’t work. I think we will have a better idea of this package, things like that this weekend.’’

But Blaney also admits that leading still could be challenging at Talladega.

“Talladega is just a lot wider, there’s more room to make moves but that is tougher because if you’re the leader you’ve got to block more in spots so that is kind of hard, just depends on what spot you’re in,’’ he said.

3. Waiting to celebrate

Hendrick Motorsports continues to seek its 250th Cup win. This is only the third time since 2002 that Hendrick Motorsports has gone so deep into the season without a victory.

Hendrick needed 11 races to score its first victory of the season in 2012. The team needed 10 races to score its first victory in 2002. Sunday’s race at Talladega marks the 10th race of the year.

Hendrick Motorsports’ last win came in July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Kasey Kahne — 25 races ago.

4. For the cash

Saturday’s Xfinity race is another Dash 4 Cash race — meaning no Cup regulars in the field. This is the first time the Dash 4 Cash event has been held at Talladega

Those racing for the $100,000 bonus are Elliott Sadler, Christopher Bell, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

5. Five winners

So far only five drivers have won in Cup this season — Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer.

This is the fewest number of winners in the first nine races of a season since 1997 when the winners were Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin.

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Joey Logano wins pole for Kansas Cup race, playoff contenders sweep top five

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Joey Logano got through Turns 3 & 4 faster than the Cup field at Kansas Speedway and set a speed of 191.646 mph to win the pole for the Kansas Cup race. This is Logano’s second pole of the season and first on an unrestricted track. His previous pole came at Talladega this spring.

The last two races at Kansas have been won from by the pole winner with Kevin Harvick doing so this spring and Martin Truex Jr. last fall.

Playoff contenders swept the top five positions with Harvick (191.178 mph) second, Aric Almirola (190.968) third, Ryan Blaney (190.934) fourth and Brad Keselowski (190.725) fifth.

Playoff contenders Kyle Busch (190.543) qualified seventh, Alex Bowman (189.994) qualified 10th, Kurt Busch (189.593 mph) qualified 11th and Truex (189.387) was 12th.

Joe Gibbs Racing took the remaining spots in the top 12 with Erik Jones (190.570) fastest among the non-playoff contenders in sixth. Daniel Suarez (190.449 mph) was eighth and Denny Hamlin (190.027) ninth. 

Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer failed to advance to the Round of 12 despite each of them making two runs. Elliott lines up 13th with a speed of 190.027 mph; Bowyer was 14th (189.980)

Kyle Larson rolled out a backup car after crashing in practice. He was qualifying for pit selection only since he will have to fall to the back of the pack, but could only muster the 27th-fastest time of 187.162 mph.

Check back for complete results.

 

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: 1,000th Episode

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Today’s marks the 1,000th episode of NASCAR America and it airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In celebrating this milestone, we’ll re-live some of the show’s best moments from our first 999 episodes.

Also on today’s show:

  • Joining the program, will be 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who will reflect on his 17-year partnership with Chad Knaus that will end following this season. He’ll also talk about his crew chief for 2019, Kevin Meendering.
  • Kansas native Clint Bowyer also joins the show to discuss racing in his home state, his passion for the Kansas City Chiefs and how he hopes to secure a spot in the Round of 8 this weekend.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Xfinity practice report from Kansas

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Final Practice

Shane Lee posted the fastest lap in final practice for the Xfinity race with a speed of 179.480 mph.

He beat Ty Majeski (179.414 mph) by .011 seconds.

Playoff contender Christopher Bell (178.684), Austin Cindric (178.247, playoff contender) and Daniel Hemric (178.247, playoff contender) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Matt Tifft spun with three minutes remaining in final practice. He was 11th on the speed chart at the time with a speed of 177.206 mph.

Playoff contender Cole Custer (177.737) was ninth, Justin Allgaier (177.538) was 10th, Elliott Sadler (177.130) was 12th and Tyler Reddick (177.084) was the slowest 13th.

Click here for complete results

First Practice

Hemric posted  the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway with a speed of 179.916 mph.

He beat Bell (179.659 mph) by .043 seconds.

Tyler Reddick (179.474, playoff contender), Shane Lee (179.462) and Austin Cindric (179.408) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Allgaier (178.832) was seventh fastest, Custer (178.725) was eighth, Tifft (178.660) was ninth and Sadler (177.585) was the slowest in 13th.

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Ryan Blaney tops first Cup practice at Kansas, Kyle Larson wrecks

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Kansas Cup race with a speed of 192.130 mph. Blaney enters the weekend 22 points below the cutoff line.

He beat Kyle Busch (191.768 mph) by .053 seconds.

Kevin Harvick (191.761), Joey Logano (191.632) and Chase Elliott (191.421) round out the top five

Kyle Larson‘s weekend continues to worsen. With 15 minutes remaining in Friday’s practice session, he got loose and made heavy contact with the wall. Larson will have to roll out a back up car and drop to the back of the field to start the race. Larson (189.288) was 20th on the speed chart at the time.

Regan Smith was the only driver who posted 10 consecutive laps. His average speed was 182.606 mph.

Click here for complete results

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