Roush Fenway Racing

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

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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.

Ryan: The craziest twist in the Carl Edwards story, one year later

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Carl Edwards isn’t coming back.

But if he were, where would he go?

This is what has become the astounding part of Edwards’ saga, possibly more stunning than one year ago today when he walked into a conference room at Joe Gibbs Racing to explain why he was walking away from NASCAR.

Many expected he eventually would choose to return to the Cup Series, and he initially left many openings for climbing behind the wheel again (notably at Atlanta Motor Speedway last March).

But as the Columbia, Missouri, native’s comments in local media telegraphed last week, the siren call of staying on his 425-acre farm apparently outweighed racing stock cars.

And there hardly seems a path back to a top-flight ride in NASCAR’s premier series, which was transformed by a 2017 season that devalued the necessity of having a seasoned winner such as Edwards.

None of the top teams has a ride in imminent need of being filled, and any unexpected opening likely would be tabbed for someone much younger than Edwards, 38.

You could name a dozen instances last year – Ryan Blaney’s win at Pocono Raceway, Erik Jones’ anointment as successor to Matt Kenseth, Hendrick Motorsports’ selection of Alex Bowman and William Byron – in which that narrative seemed to have shifted, and it also could be attributed to many reasons – shrinking sponsor dollars, big-ticket driver salaries, engineering trumping experience.

But what if Edwards’ decision actually was the inflection point at which everything began to change?

What if a highly marketable and accomplished star leaving in the prime of his career marked the moment in which The Great Youth Movement of 2017-18 tacitly began?

What if we thought we were watching an ending … that actually was a beginning?

Subscribing to this notion requires connecting some dots with a healthy dose of nuance and a dash of sociology.

Edwards’ retirement didn’t directly trigger a cascading series of reactions that concluded with Byron and Bowman in Cup next year.

But it did plant some seeds and provide an accelerated test case of how a powerhouse team would handle being thrust into a changing of the guard at least a year ahead of schedule.

Aside from an early season blip in 2017, Joe Gibbs Racing hardly missed a beat without Edwards, and the team financially positioned itself well for the future with the byproduct of a major salary dump. Suarez is making a fraction of what Edwards did, a cost savings stretching well into the eight figures.

Though Jones was contractually obligated to join JGR in 2018, making the call for him to replace Kenseth probably became less fraught given the relative smoothness of the sudden transition to Suarez.

Surely, other teams noticed as well. Groupthink is a weekly pursuit in a Cup garage built around mimicry, but its tentacles also can extend to teams’ front offices, where prospects have soured for accomplished veterans.

Imagine if Edwards wanted to return now and placed an imaginary help wanted notice (the same way he once advertised himself for rides in trade publications). It would read something like this:

Veteran star from the Midwest. A long record of winning results at Roush Fenway Racing and JGR. Consistent championship contender.

Sound familiar?

The reasons that Kenseth couldn’t find a ride for 2018 are the same that would be facing Edwards, who might offer a more camera-friendly persona but actually has less impressive on-track credentials.

This is the current reality of Cup for stars who once could command high salaries: Be ready to accept a steep pay cut with a smile.

It’s why it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Edwards returns, particularly when considering his objective of reconnecting with his roots seemingly has been realized.

“I’m an all-or-nothing person, sometimes to my detriment,” he told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. “It’s taken about a year to actually wind down. I’m just now becoming the friend and person I should be to a lot of people that I basically didn’t spend a lot of time with for a long time. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’ve really been enjoying it.”

Good for Edwards, who is an analytical and meticulous personality so well known for his planning, many peers have joked about him being a survivalist “prepper.”

Maybe our shock at his abrupt exit was misguided.

Edwards might have foreseen a bigger surprise was in store.

Ken Schrader, Carl Edwards to be inducted in Ozark Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame

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Former NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Carl Edwards will be among 10 inductees in the Ozark Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame on Jan. 6.

The 31st annual event will be held at the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds E-Plex in Springfield, Missouri.

Schrader retired from racing in the Cup and Xfinity Series in 2013, having earned two Cup wins and four Xfinity wins in his career.

He still competes in the annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

In addition to co-owning I-55 Raceway, Schrader, 62, continues to have a busy racing schedule, having competed in 65 dirt-track events in 2017.

Schrader will be joined for induction by first cousin and former NASCAR Cup driver Carl Edwards, who stepped away from racing at the end of the 2016 season.

Another NASCAR notable who will be inducted is MB Motorsports Truck Series team owner Mike Mittler.

Other inductees include Jim Campbell, James Taylor, the late Daryl Williams, Bob Aton, Chris Davis, Lonnie Snodgrass and Dan Williams.

Prior to the induction ceremonies, there will be an autograph session and a question-and-answer session with the inductees.

There will also be a blood drive that day from 2-5 p.m. to benefit Mittler, who is battling Multiple Myeloma and will undergo an autologous stem cell transplant in February, as well as local racer Brandon Riddle, who has undergone three liver transplants and one kidney transplant.

Last year’s Hall inductees included NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin and Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas.

Bump & Run: Favorite throwback paint schemes for Southern 500

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1. What is the Throwback paint scheme you’re looking forward the most to see this weekend at Darlington Raceway?

(Images here)

Nate Ryan: Danica Patrick’s Ford Credit No. 10. It’s a true throwback that pays homage to a champion who always carried himself well in and out of the car. Though most fans probably associate Dale Jarrett with UPS, this is the primary sponsor that evokes the fondest memories of DJ’s career for me.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto’s car resembles Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life car, which was one of my favorite cars. Dylan Lupton’s Xfinity car, which resembles Jeff Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” paint scheme also looks sharp.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer‘s Carolina Ford Dealers scheme, which is what Mark Martin drove from 1988-91 in the Xfinity Series. It hits that very specific sweet spot of looking both incredibly tacky in a way only a late 80s/early 90s scheme could while looking awesome at the same time.

Jerry Bonkowski: Nothing looks cooler or more intimidating than a black car. And when it channels the fabled “Midnight” car Rusty Wallace used to drive in the mid-1990s, it’s all the more badass. That’s why I’m picking Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford as the scheme I’m looking forward to the most at Darlington.

2. What’s another underdog win in NASCAR that compares to Jeremy Clements’ victory at Road America?

Nate Ryan: It ranks as the biggest upset since David Gilliland’s 2006 victory at Kentucky Speedway. That win catapulted Gilliland into a Cup ride with Robert Yates Racing. Clements has paid his dues to be deserving of a similar shot with a decent team.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s 2006 Xfinity win at Kentucky Speedway in an unsponsored car for a team that went away after that season. 

Daniel McFadin: Greg Sacks winning the 1985 Firecracker 400. He made 263 Cup starts from 1983-2005 with only one full season (1994). In an unsponsored research-and-development car for DiGard, Sacks led 33 laps and beat Bill Elliott by 23.5 seconds for his only Cup victory.

Jerry Bonkowski: A.J. Allmendinger‘s 2013 win at Road America stands out to me. After missing a good chunk of 2012 serving a suspension for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse policy, Allmendinger earned his first career Xfinity win driving for Team Penske, which gave him a second chance. Ironically, Allmendinger would make just two Xfinity starts in 2013 for Team Penske, and won both of them (the other coming at Mid-Ohio).

3. There have been 11 different winners* since 2006 in the Southern 500. What kind of odds do you put at there being a 12th different winner this weekend?

Nate Ryan: About 10-1. There are four drivers who are serious threats, and each already has a victory this season — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth has the best chance of the winless candidates.

Dustin Long: 75-1 that there will be a different winner than there has been since 2006. Darlington isn’t a track everyone has an even chance at. The winner will be someone who has won at Darlington since 2006.

Daniel McFadin: Seeing as how five of those 11 drivers are no longer competing in Cup or are retired, I think there are good odds. But Kyle Busch (2008) and Martin Truex Jr. (2016) should be favorites. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it goes 12-for-12 Sunday, with the most likely suspects to win being those who are most in dire need of a win to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs: Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Erik Jones. And don’t count out Kurt Busch, who has never won at the Track Too Tough To Tame.

* Previous winners at Darlington

2006 — Greg Biffle

2007 — Jeff Gordon

2008 — Kyle Busch

2009 — Mark Martin

2010 — Denny Hamlin

2011 — Regan Smith

2012 — Jimmie Johnson

2013 — Matt Kenseth

2014 — Kevin Harvick

2015 — Carl Edwards

2016 — Martin Truex Jr.

Who are the candidates to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88? Here’s a short list

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With Tuesday’s news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving NASCAR after the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports would seem to have multiple internal and external candidates to fill the ride.

Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet would be the top-tier opening for 2018. The car is prepared in the same building as the No. 48 of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and is a teammate to Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. Since taking over the No. 88 in 2008, Earnhardt has made the playoffs in six of nine seasons, notched nine victories and finished top 10 in points three times (he might have again in 2012 if he hadn’t been sidelined for two races by a concussion).

Some of the decision assuredly will depend on sponsorship (in a statement, Nationwide said it fully supported Earnhardt’s decision and would continue its relationship with the 14-time most popular driver beyond 2017), but here are a few names to consider — starting with two already in the Hendrick fold:

William Byron: Signed to a developmental deal with the team last August, he unquestionably is the future of Hendrick Motorsports along with Elliott.

Byron, 19, showed prodigious talent as a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series with a circuit-leading seven victories (he was robbed of the championship because of a mechanical failure while dominating Phoenix). He is only seven races into his Xfinity career but is a solid second in points with five top 10s and two top fives.

There will be questions about whether it would be rushing too much to promote him to Cup in his third full season in a NASCAR national series, but if he’s the eventual solution, why wait to promote him? Kyle Larson was moved into Cup after only a full season of Xfinity, and his development into the 2017 points leader has proved the pitfalls that surrounded Joey Logano’s entry into Cup as an inexperienced teenager can be avoided.

Alex Bowman: He filled in admirably for an injured Earnhardt with three top 10s in 10 races last year (qualifying on pole position at Phoenix and leading 194 laps). Bowman, who turned 24 today, also ran full time in Cup from 2014-15, so he has 81 starts in the premier series as well as five top fives in 50 Xfinity starts.

Still under contract to Hendrick, his yeoman work on the driving simulator has drawn praise from the organization and its drivers.

But the Tuscon, Ariz., native still doesn’t have a resume that is eye-catching as Byron’s, and his upside might be a more difficult sell to sponsors.

Carl Edwards: Since stepping away from NASCAR in a stunning announcement three months ago, Edwards steadfastly has maintained he isn’t retired. While visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway to help rookie replacement Daniel Suarez with his former No. 19 Toyota, Edwards brought his helmet and firesuit just in case.

He seems open to driving in Cup again, though he is remaining coy about it. Asked by NBC Sports if the No. 88 was an opportunity he would consider, Edwards jokingly replied, “You may have it mixed up. I’m recruiting Dale to drive a tractor!” (He also added he was happy for Earnhardt, and that it would be a great ride for someone.)

With 28 victories in the Cup series and a megawatt smile and sponsor appeal, Edwards’ name figures to come up whenever there is an opening, even if he seems to be enjoying life on his farm in Columbia, Mo. He also was courted by Hendrick about a decade ago (which Jeff Gordon confirmed in 2011 when Edwards was in the midst of re-upping for the last time with Roush Fenway Racing).

–Any other qualified veteran: Hendrick could decide Byron isn’t ready for the No. 88 yet next season but is the answer for 2019.

Would it make sense to consider putting NBCSN analyst Greg Biffle (who has indicated he still would like to race), another driver with winning credentials (such as David Ragan or Regan Smith, who has Hendrick and JRM ties) or a youthful driver with Cup experience and a win in a national series (hello, Parker Kligerman) in the No. 88 to keep the seat warm for Byron in 2019?

Given that Hendrick waited a year for Kahne to join its ranks, and Stewart-Haas Racing did the same with Clint Bowyer, it isn’t an implausible scenario.