A level of domination not seen in NASCAR in years

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Yes, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have been the class of the Cup field this year, but their domination is even more impressive when looks to last year and beyond.

Consider:

Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 19 of the last 24 races — dating back to the start of last year’s playoffs. That’s a 79.2 percent winning percentage.

Here is the breakdown of winners in the last 24 races:

7 — Kyle Busch

6 — Kevin Harvick

6 — Martin Truex Jr.

1 — Brad Keselowski

1 — Matt Kenseth

1 — Clint Bowyer

1 — Joey Logano

1 — Austin Dillon

But look deeper. remove the three restrictor-plate races run since last year’s playoffs and Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 19 of the last 21 unrestricted races. That’s 90.5 percent.

The sport hasn’t seen this level of domination since 2008-09. Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Busch combined to win 17 of 24 races from Sonoma in June 2008 to Las Vegas in March 2009.

Edwards, Johnson and Busch combined to win 24 of 36 races (67 percent) in 2008.

In the last two Cup races, the domination by Harvick, Busch and Truex has been pronounced. They have combined to lead 510 of 560 laps (91.1 percent) run in the Coca-Cola 600 and Pocono race.

Here is a breakdown of laps led in the past two races:

390 — Kyle Busch

  89 — Kevin Harvick

  31 — Martin Truex Jr.

  12 —Brad Keselowski

  12 — Joey Logano

  11 — Ryan Blaney

    9 — Denny Hamlin

    4 — Bubba Wallace

    2 — Jimmie Johnson

Also consider this: In seven of the 14 Cup points race this season, Harvick, Busch or Truex took two of the top three spots at the finish.

— Here is how Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have fared this year:

Kevin Harvick

5 wins

1 runner-up

10 top 5s

Kyle Busch

4 wins

3 runner-ups

9 top 5s

Martin Truex Jr.

2 wins

2 runner-ups

9 top 5s

The 11 wins by Harvick, Busch and Truex ranks fourth in the modern era (since 1972) for victories by a trio of drivers in the first 14 races.

Cale Yarborough (six wins), Richard Petty (four) and David Pearson (three) won 13 of the first 14 races in 1974. Yarborough (six), Petty (four) and Darrell Waltrip (two) won 12 of the first 14 races in 1977. Pearson (six), Petty (four) and Yarborough (two) also combined to win 12 of the first 14 races in 1973.

The 11 wins by Harvick, Busch and Truex ties three other seasons.

Rusty Wallace (five wins), Ernie Irvan (three) and Dale Earnhardt (three) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1994. Earnhardt (seven), Tim Richmond (two) and Davey Allison (two) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1987. Bill Elliott (seven), Neil Bonnett (two) and Earnhardt (two) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1985.

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NASCAR America: Legendary owners Jack Roush, Roger Penske inducted into NASCAR Hall

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On Wednesday, legendary owners Roger Penske and Jack Roush were selected as members of the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

At the start of their careers, both of the owners were on the outside looking in with Penske coming from the ranks of the open wheel cars and Roush from sports cars.

When Penske was watching races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a young man, he was dreaming of making his mark in the sport of auto racing. In a variety of disciplines encompassing stock cars, open-wheel cars and sports cars, Team Penske has now earned 489 major race wins (and counting), 556 poles, and 32 championships.

In NASCAR, Penske has been responsible for 108 wins. His first of these came with Mark Donohue behind the wheel at Riverside International Raceway in 1973; his most recent was earned just three races ago by Joey Logano at Talladega Superspeedway.

Penske is “one of those guys that just commands respect,” said Rusty Wallace in press release issued moments after Penske’s induction. “Not just because of all of his success, but because he really cares about people. Everyone wants to please Roger because he does so much to help everyone else and he just has that desire to win. Winning is contagious around Roger.”

“On the backs of giants, I’ve been carried to success and recognition that otherwise I could not have been – that would have been beyond my grasp individually,” Roush said soon after the announcement that he would join former driver Mark Martin in the Hall of Fame.

Roush came along a little later than Penske after a successful career in sport cars racing. He fielded an entry for the relatively unknown Martin in 1988. The pair would earn their first victory one year later when Martin took the checkers at Rockingham Speedway. Since then, Roush has added 136 more Cup wins – including a pair for his current driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. last year.

“It means everything in the world to me,” Martin said. “I am so happy with this class and so happy for Jack. If you look at his numbers – his numbers are great – but if you look at what he’s really done as far as contributing to NASCAR, he brought up all his drivers. He gave me a second chance when no one else would. Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, you name it – Carl Edwards. All these guys were on the outside looking in when Jack Roush gave them the opportunity.“

Roush’s legacy includes developing talent and being one of the first owners truly successful with a multi-car organization. Martin made 57 Cup starts before he joined forces with Roush, but it was not until they were paired that he excelled. In 2005, the organization placed five drivers in the playoffs, which was one of the catalysts for NASCAR’s current rule limiting organizations to four teams.

NASCAR America: Daniel Suarez’s success in All-Star Race provides 600 confidence

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The rules package used in last week’s All-Star Race did not provide technical assistance to any of the teams since it will not be implemented for this week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but Daniel Suarez gained more from his second-place finish in it than perhaps anyone else, according to the NASCAR America analysts on Tuesday.

Racing at NASCAR’s top level takes confidence that can only be earned with success.

“I don’t think a lot applies from a technical standpoint, but I think that momentum is important,” Jeff Burton said. “Daniel Suarez got moved up to the Cup series probably a year before they really wanted him to with Carl Edwards’ departure.

“He still is playing catch up a little bit. And that’s OK. He’s a young driver, he has time to catch up, but at some point you’ve got to have some success. … I think for Daniel, this race was exceptionally important because it reminded him he can drive a race car. Reminded him what it feels like to battle for the win.”

Suarez finished 11th in last year’s Coke 600 and finished sixth in the fall Bank of America 500.

“Daniel’s going to get a lot from the All-Star Race going into the 600,” Landon Cassill said. “Maybe because of his experience and because he’s a sophomore driver, he might get more out of it than Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick. Getting those reps in and restarting next to Kevin Harvick … racing side-by-side with those guys. More so than just the confidence. There are actual things that Daniel learned on Saturday night that is going to help him for the Coke 600.

For more, watch the above video.

Matt Kenseth to pay tribute to Mark Martin in Saturday’s All-Star Race

Roush Fenway Racing
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In 1998, Mark Martin scored the first All-Star Race victory for Jack Roush. Two decades later, Matt Kenseth will pay tribute with a special paint scheme.

The No. 6 Ford will sport the iconic black, red, orange and yellow livery that Martin drove to the win that year.

“Our paint scheme this week is a nod to Jack’s first All-Star win in 1998 with Mark,” Kenseth said in a release. “Obviously those two have meant so much to my career, and it’s cool to honor both of them this weekend.”

Roush went to victory lane three more times, including another win for Martin in 2005.

But it is that first win that sticks in Martin’s mind.

“The 1998 All-Star Race was really cool for me,” Martin said. “We were running third with two laps to go and passed Bobby Labonte coming off of (Turn 4) for the white flag. Jeff Gordon was gone up front and about the time I passed Bobby, Jeff pulled over to the inside and slowed. I was like, ‘Wow!’ All of the sudden, we were in the lead. We had no idea we were going to win the race, and it happened just that quickly. Those can be some of the best wins, because you just never see it coming.”

Kenseth, who made his first start in the All-Star Race in 2000, added to Roush’s total in 2004. In 18 consecutive appearances, he has scored seven top fives and 12 top-10s.

Carl Edwards earned Roush’s fourth and most recent victory in 2011.

“The All-Star Race has gone through a lot of changes over the years,” said Kenseth. “But the addition of the restrictor plate may be the biggest. I honestly don’t know what to expect other than the cars will be slower. We’ll just have to see how it plays out this weekend.”

Kasey Kahne also will have a throwback paint scheme on his No. 95 this Saturday. It will commemorate the 10th anniversary of his 2008 All-Star victory.

Long: Can Matt Kenseth return Roush Fenway to its glory days?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue skies poked through the gray clouds that had hung over the city for most of two days, delivering rain, wind and gloom.

Inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning, the forecast also was about to change for one Cup team.

Matt Kenseth is back in NASCAR to help turnaround Roush Fenway Racing.

It’s an interesting challenge for me and not just being a driver,’’ said Kenseth, who has 39 career Cup victories to rank 20th on the all-time list. “I hope I can be much more to the organization, and I’m hoping that there are a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

An organization that once dominated — Roush won 15 races and placed five cars in the top 10 in points in 2005 — has struggled to be competitive and retain drivers.

Kenseth left after the 2012 season. Carl Edwards departed after 2014. Greg Biffle left after 2016 because there wasn’t enough sponsorship to fund a car.

While Wednesday was a day for Roush Fenway Racing to celebrate and look toward the future, there is much work to do for an organization that has one top-10 finish between Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

“We have enough resources to fix any number of things but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’

Bayne likely wouldn’t be sharing the No. 6 the rest of the year with Kenseth if his team’s performance hadn’t dipped.

Bayne has run in the top 15 in 10.5 percent of the laps run this season (Stenhouse is at 39.9 percent). Bayne’s average finish is 23.9 — compared to 19.5 last year — and he ranks 25th in the series in average running position (23.0).

“Really, when we look at last year, (Bayne’s team) and (Stenhouse’s team) were fairly close in overall performance, the 17 (of Stenhouse) was certainly better and certainly that split got greater this year and that’s just … not the direction we’re wanting to continue down,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports.

Kenseth understands the challenge he’ll face. After winning races in six of the past seven seasons, the focus is different.

“I don’t think any of us expect to come out and win races,’’ Kenseth said. “That would be great if you could, and I think we expect to eventually. I don’t think that the summer and a part-time schedule that we expect to win, but I do feel like the cars are much more competitive, I feel like they’re on the right track.’’

Wheeler said the work starts now. The team will integrate Kenseth in all that it is doing. Kenseth noted that he’s been watching races more closely and studying notes “the last few weeks” as the deal was put together.

As for why this wasn’t done at the start of the year when Kenseth was available, car owner Jack Roush had a simple answer.

“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.”

With the performance down this year, Roush needed to act quickly.

Mark Martin, who has served in a consultant-type role since the playoffs last year, said what Kenseth can help the team with could make a significant impact for Stenhouse — who had three sponsors extend deals with the team last week.

“I have hopes (of the team winning) because I know the tools are there at the organization, I know the people are there at the organization,’’ Martin said. “Really, what’s preventing them right now is a little bit of enthusiasm and direction to be able to use those tools and spend that time on the part that bears fruit.

“You do that and put that in Ricky Stenhouse’s hands, he’ll get it done. Right now, Ricky is just trying too freaking hard. I think if we could get him in a little faster race car, I would hope that maybe he could tune it down. He’s just driving so hard right now, it’s hard to watch for me. I just feel like we have all the tools, we just still don’t have the cars fast enough inherently.’’

Stenhouse has had to go to a backup car in three of the first nine races because of accidents during practice.

Stenhouse, who made the playoffs last year, will be the team’s only driver eligible for the playoffs since it seems unlikely NASCAR would grant a waiver for Bayne or Kenseth if they’re not running the full season because of a team decision.

For Stenhouse to make the playoffs and be a factor, the organization must be better at the 1.5-mile tracks that play a key role in the Cup season. It’s no coincidence that Kenseth will make his debut May 12 at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile speedway and be back in the car for the May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track.

“We’ve got to perform on the mile-and-a half tracks or we’re going to be disappointed with our end-of-the year results,’’ Wheeler told NBC Sports. “Making the playoffs was really our goal last year. Well, now it’s about making the playoffs and making a strong run, validating that we deserve to be there and that we’re going to be competitive on these mile-and-a-half tracks that eat up so much of the schedule.’’

The rest of the driver schedule for the No. 6 car is to be worked out between Bayne, Kenseth and sponsor obligations.

That’s just a small part of the work ahead for Kenseth.

His biggest task is if he can help change Roush Fenway Racing’s fortunes and return the team to sunnier days?

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