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What might have been: Jeff Gordon driving for Jack Roush?

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Had things gone differently, Jeff Gordon might have driven for Jack Roush instead of Rick Hendrick.

Gordon told the story after he was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Wednesday with Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Roush.

Recall that Gordon’s first full-time ride in what was called the Busch Grand National Series, he drove a Ford for car owner Bill Davis.  

Here’s how Gordon tells the story:

“I had a contract that was like a year‑to‑year contract with Ford where they gave me a car, a little bit of money, drove for Bill Davis.

“The Roush thing, I think, came when they got wind that I was starting to get some offers. The first one came from Cale Yarborough in ’91. (I told him) I’m not even halfway through my rookie season. I can’t do that.

“But Bill was gracious enough to let me go test that car. Many people don’t realize I tested for Cale out here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I spun out, I just didn’t hit anything.

“Went through ’91. Then in ’92, that’s when things got real. We started winning. We won the race in Atlanta. Everybody knows about the story about Rick Hendrick seeing me there. I don’t know what happened, but the buzz started getting around.

“Of course, Bill wanted to go Cup racing. Didn’t look like a reality to me at the time. It seemed like we were a long way from being a Cup team. It was a great Busch Grand National team.

“So Ford came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to talk to you about a potential opportunity with Jack Roush.’ I never spoke to Jack until after all that. But that’s what Ford had mentioned to me. I think it was kind of out of desperation of, we don’t want to lose you in our camp. I think by that point I was already set with what I was going to do with Rick.

“By the way, if I had the opportunity prior to Rick calling me, I’d have jumped on top of that. To drive for Jack Roush, how amazing would that have been? So I’m happy the way things worked out, but you can believe had I not already been signed with Rick. …  It all worked out for the right reasons, but I would have done that.’’

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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.

Jeff Gordon leads 2019 Hall of Fame Class

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Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup champion who ushered in a new era of NASCAR on and off the track and opened a pathway for younger drivers to the premier series, was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Gordon is the youngest inductee among the 10 Hall of Fame classes.

Joining Gordon in the Class of 2019 are: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.

Gordon was selected on 96 percent of the ballots — surpassing the record of being on 94 percent of the ballot shared by David Pearson (Class of 2011) and Robert Yates (Class of 2018).

Roush was selected on 70 percent of the ballots, Penske was on 68 percent, Allison was on 63 percent and Kulwicki was on 46 percent.

They will be inducted Feb 1, 2019.

The next three top vote-getters were Buddy Baker, Hershel McGriff and Waddell Wilson.

A total of 57 ballots were cast — 56 by Hall of Fame voting members and one online fan ballot. The fan ballot had Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker and Harry Gant.

Jim Hunter was selected as the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to NASCAR as a media member, p.r. person, track operator and NASCAR official.

Gordon’s selection marks the third consecutive class that features a member of Hendrick Motorsports. Car owner Rick Hendrick was selected to the Class of 2017. Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief for three of his titles, was voted to the Class of 2018. 

“I think it tells you a lot about that combination, what Rick created in his organization and the people,” Gordon said. “When Ray and I came to work, Ray told me all the resources are there, this could be something really special. It obviously ended up being way more than we ever anticipated. Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them is very, very, very special. … Besides my parents, I owe those two everything to how they contributed to my life in more than just racing.”

Gordon’s success made car owners more open to hiring young drivers. Gordon also opened a pipeline from Midwest sprint car racing that helped future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, among others, move to NASCAR.

Gordon’s influence goes beyond the track. He introduced NASCAR to mainstream America in the 1990s when he dominated, winning Cup titles in 1995, ’97 and ’98. Gordon appeared in national ads that weren’t just during NASCAR races and was the first — and only — NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live.

Gordon won 47 of his 93 career Cp wins between 1995-99. The driver dubbed “Wonder Boy” early in his career by Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title in 2001 — the year Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, five Southern 500s and five Brickyard 400s.

Off the track, Gordon displayed class and poise throughout his career. He also displayed emotions. Gordon cried when he won his first points race, the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. He celebrated what was his final Cup win in November 2015 at Martinsville by bouncing, hooting and shouting “We’re going to Homestead!”

With Gordon’s selection the top five all-time winners in Cup will be in the Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Gordon.

Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion, joins the Hall of Fame after coming close the past two years. He was among the top three vote getters not selected to the Class of 2016. He was tied with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the last spot in the Class of 2017. Both were selected on 38 percent of the ballots and Hornaday was selected in a second vote.

Kulwicki is revered for his underdog run to the ’92 title where he beat Bill Elliott by 10 points as a driver/owner. Kulwicki won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Allison won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He also was the 1987 Rookie of the Year and finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500.

Allison was a fan favorite for his personality and persistence. Three months after Kulwicki died in a plane crash, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Roush, whose name has been synonymous with success for most of his Cup career, joined the premier series in 1988 with Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

Roush, who has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series, won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 crown with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Penske is better known for his success in IndyCar, including his 16 Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner, but he’s also made an impact in NASCAR.

Penske won the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and has two Daytona 500 victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. In Team Penske’s 52-year history, it has 489 major race wins across all series and 553 poles. Included are wins in IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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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.

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

Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
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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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