jack roush

Friday 5: A one in a million shot never before seen in NASCAR

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Lightning and NASCAR have frustratingly intertwined this summer, leading to numerous race delays, but who could have imagined their connection to one person?

The probability of Martin Truex Jr.’s five consecutive third-place finishes nearly equals the chances a person has of being struck by lightning in a given year.

The odds of Truex scoring back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back third-place finishes were 1 million to one, according to Jeremy Losak, assistant professor at the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University.

The odds of being stuck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 1.2 million, according to the National Weather Service.

Never in NASCAR’s history has a driver finished in third place for five races in a row.

That doesn’t impress Truex.

“Seems like third place is just where we’re at right now,” he said with a hint of disdain after last weekend’s race on the Daytona road course.

Crew chief James Small calls those third-place finishes “frustrating” because the team has been so close to wins.

He tries to console himself, though. Small notes that finishing third is “better than fourth. It’s better than crashing.”

But then he adds, “it’s not fun.”

Martin Truex Jr., shown during the Daytona road course race, has gone more than a month since he finished in a position other than third place in a Cup race. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Truex’s streak almost ended Aug. 8 in the first Michigan race, which marked his third consecutive third-place finish. He was eighth on the overtime restart. Truex passed five cars on the first lap of overtime but could not gain any other positions on the final lap. He finished behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Brad Keselowski.

Truex will have a chance to break the streak — or extend it for a sixth consecutive race — Saturday at Dover International Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The odds of Truex finishing third in all six of these races is 23.5 million to 1, said Losak, who determined the probabilities for NBC Sports.

The odds of winning the jackpot in the Mega Millions is 302 million to 1. So compared to that, there’s a good chance Truex will finish third again Saturday.

However long Truex’s run lasts, it will become a part of Losak’s sport data and analysis class at Syracuse.

“I’m probably going to show (the students) this as an example of how to do this sort of thing,” he said.

Losak discovered the probabilities with the help of a teaching assistant, who provided research. Losak, used DraftKings odds on drivers, reviewed historical data, wrote a code and ran 100 million simulations to determine the odds.

“The more simulations I run, the more accurate the number is,” Losak told NBC Sports. “Given how unlikely an event this is to occur, if I didn’t run enough simulations, you would have a bunch fo times it would happen zero times. So I had to run the simulation enough times to get some times where it actually hit.”

Losak noted that Truex’s odds are better than most drivers because Truex has a better record. Most drivers, Losak noted, would have about a 4 million to one chance of placing third in five races in a row. Losak also said that for those drivers, they would have an 85.7 million to one chance of finishing third in these six consecutive races.

“I enjoy doing stuff like this,” Losak said. “It’s just fun to fiddle with the data.”

Truex will save his fun for when he’s back in Victory Lane.

2. Personal changes

Noah Gragson has endured much on the track this season. He’s had a run-in with teammate Justin Allgaier, a fight with Harrison Burton and contact with Riley Herbst and Myatt Snider. But it is off the track that Gragson has focused on recently.

“I’ve kind of made a lot of changes in my personal life in the past week and a half, two weeks,” Gragson said after his third-place finish last weekend on the Daytona road course. “Just trying to clean up things on my end, not even on the racetrack, just trying to be in a better headspace when I get to the racetrack.”

Asked about what he’s done in particular to achieve that, Gragson said:

“Just trying to focus on my priorities and focus on what is going to better myself for our team at JR Motorsports and how I apply myself more. Whether it be friendships that aren’t really the best that are kind of bringing drama in my life or just different things, just trying to eliminate those options.

“I’ve spent a lot of time by myself at home, really not doing anything, studying film, playing Xbox and going to the shop. … Trying to clean up my friends, trying to clean up stuff that brings extra drama to my life, things that the less I can think about during the day, the better I can be on the racetrack. There are a lot of things that are rolling through my head right now.”

Gragson enters this weekend’s Xfinity Series doubleheader at Dover third in points with victories in the season-opening race at Daytona and at Bristol. He goes into Saturday’s race (12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with top-10  finishes each of the past two weeks.

3. Choose your path

The choose rule returns this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

The rule, which was tried at the Bristol All-Star Race, and used at Michigan earlier this month, will be in place the rest of the season except at the Charlotte Roval and races at Daytona and Talladega.

The rule allows drivers to choose whether to restart on the inside lane or outside lane. Chase Elliott used it to take the lead at Michigan. He was fifth in line but the top four cars took the outside lane, so he took the inside lane and restarted next to leader Kevin Harvick. Elliott passed Harvick and led nine laps. Harvick retook the lead and went on to win the first of two races that weekend. Elliott fell to seventh.

For all the preparation teams might put into figuring what lane to choose based on what other drivers do, William Byron says it isn’t that complicated on what to do.

“I think Dover is fairly even on lane choice,” he said. “I know the bottom lane doesn’t accelerate as well on the restart zone. So if you’re maybe second, you might choose to restart fourth (outside lane row 2) instead of on the inside in second. I think it’s all just feel and how your car is handling. Obviously, the engineers can try to science it out as best they can. But typically, just common-sense plays into a rule like this for sure.”

4. Looking ahead

Car owner Jack Roush explained this week to reporters what he liked among the changes this season and one thing in particular that could be better for owners.

Roush is a fan of one-day races, echoing sentiments from others, including Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart and JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty.

“We’ve demonstrated we can do one-day races and there may be a chance to go to some place we hadn’t otherwise planned to go to that maybe doesn’t have enough hotel room capacity,” Roush said. “Some of the other things would tend to rule out having one of our Cup events, so I think that we may be able to take some one-day races, that’ll be fun.”

He also noted another change he liked.

“The one thing that comes from the short tracks that I hadn’t experienced before, but the choice or opportunity to have every car and every driver make a choice if he wants to start inside or outside (on a restart) … that’s an interesting dimension of strategy and consideration that I think makes the racing more exciting for me,” Roush said.

On the challenges owners face, Roush said: “NASCAR is in a position to take a look at most of the money that comes into the sport and what it takes to run the racetracks or their affiliations with the racetracks, what it takes corporately to make their organization work. I’m not the person to comment on either, but for the money that gets portioned out to the teams it’s not enough to make it very exciting from a business point of view.”

5. Out of sync

If Kyle Busch fails to win either Cup race at Dover this weekend, it will mark the first time in his Cup career he has failed to win by race 26 in a season.

Busch has one win in the last 45 races. That victory came at Miami in last year’s season finale, giving Busch his second career series title. During that same time, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have 15 wins.  Busch has 56 career Cup victories, one ahead of Kevin Harvick.

How military service helped shape future careers in NASCAR

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Among major professional sports, NASCAR has had one of the longest and most meaningful relationships with the U.S. military.

That is most notable every Memorial Day weekend when for more than 30 years Charlotte Motor Speedway has honored present and former members of the military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

While fans and military members will not be in attendance for the 61st Coca-Cola 600 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a modified version of the annual salute to the military will take place Sunday.

Even without fans and former and current military members in the stands, there will be a military presence at the track in the form of former service members who work for teams or in the sport.

Here are some of their stories:

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TIM CLARK

– Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, NASCAR

– Military service: U.S. Army, 1994-98 (active duty) and 1998-2001 (reserves). Served as a specialist/armored crewman, primarily on tanks.

If anyone would ever try to strap Goodyear racing tires on an M1 Abrams tank, it likely would be Tim Clark.

“Driving an Abrams tank doesn’t translate into a career in digital media, no matter what they try and tell you. Tanks don’t maneuver quite as well (as a stock car),” Clark said with a laugh to NBC Sports.

Tim Clark takes a spin on an Abrams tank. (Photo courtesy Tim Clark)

After piloting tanks in places such as Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Irwin, California and Germany, Clark joined NASCAR in 2012.

He came from a military family. His father, grandfather and uncle all served. He joined shortly after graduating from high school.

“(Being in the military) taught me the value of organization and teamwork, being motivated and working on a cause greater than yourself,” Clark said. “Some of the lessons that I learned there are by far the most important things that I’ve been able to apply from a career standpoint, no doubt.”

Clark takes pride in how the Coke 600 has honored veterans over the years.

“I think the respect that’s shown is the best part for me,” Clark said. “The drivers meeting is a great example. You’ll have a ton of VIPs and celebrities introduced, but the standing ovations are almost always reserved for military members.

“Being able to see it from both sides and through two different lenses, it’s incredibly powerful and I’m thankful to have the opportunity not only to have been in the military but also to now work for a company that has so much respect for the military.”

Clark said being in the military serves as good preparation for civilian life. He can’t count the number of times soldiers have asked him how they can someday also work in NASCAR.

Tim Clark during his time in the Army. Photo courtesy Tim Clark.

“That is one of the most pleasant surprises of my time in the military,” Clark said. “The Army does a phenomenal job of preparing you to move into a civilian life and into a career. They help you with resumes, letters of recommendation and tips on how to apply what you’ve learned in the military into your careers and civilian life.”

Clark acknowledges that with fans and military missing, Sunday will be a strange feeling. But at the same time, he’s heartened that CMS and NASCAR will make sure service members and veterans are still honored.

“In an ideal world, we have not only troops at the track but the fans and everyone else out to enjoy the race,” he said. “But if the alternative is that we have a race that doesn’t have anyone in the stands and instead it’s just television entertainment, I think there’s a lot of value in that.

“Our ability to provide some entertainment and a distraction for not only the troops but for all NASCAR fans is top of mind for everyone. We’re doing that in a way that’s going to be the safest option for everyone.”

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TORREY GALIDA

– President, Richard Childress Racing

– Military service: U.S. Navy, 1984-90. Served as an intelligence officer

With three years as an intelligence officer on the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier and three years at the Pentagon, the skills Torrey Galida acquired — things like analysis, interpretation, direction and execution — laid a foundation that has carried over into nearly a quarter-century in automotive manufacturing and racing, eventually becoming president of Richard Childress Racing in 2014.

“It was all part of my grand plan,” Galida said with a laugh.

Torrey Galida went from an intelligence officer in the Navy to president of Richard Childress Racing. (Photo courtesy Torrey Galida)

Unlike some current members of the NASCAR community who went from high school into the military and eventually to college, Galida graduated from the University of Colorado, joined the Navy for six years and then earned an MBA from Duke University.

Galida went on to a lengthy stint as an executive with Ford, ran the pace car program for the Indianapolis 500, and was a key executive at Millsport Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing before joining RCR as Chief Operating Officer in 2011.

Galida has never forgotten his military service. He sits on the board of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina and along with the support of team owner Richard Childress, began a unique program of involvement with veterans more than three years ago.

Before the pandemic, RCR hosted veterans on the first Wednesday of the month, providing coffee and doughnuts and guest speakers. Galida said the event would attract about 200 veterans each month.

“We’ve also done a couple of special events,” Galida said. “We did lunch last May to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and had over 1,200 people, including 64 World War II vets and five or six that actually participated in the invasion of Normandy.

“It was amazing to see all those people there and incredible to see that many World War II vets.”

RCR, which employs 24 veterans, also is involved in a number of other military initiatives, including an annual “military salutes” program with Dow Chemical Co. at Michigan International Speedway. The initiative features a stars-and-stripes paint scheme on Austin Dillon’s race car that includes the names of nearly 2,000 Dow and RCR employees or family members who are former service members.

“Even though I’ve been around this for 15 years,” Galida said, “it was really a pretty cool experience to see your name actually on the car.”

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DALE INMAN

– Retired NASCAR crew chief

– Military service: U.S. Army, 1959-61, Specialist E-4 ordnance specialist

Dale Inman is the most successful crew chief in NASCAR history, winning eight championships (seven with Richard Petty, Inman’s cousin, and one with Terry Labonte) and 171 races overall.

Inman started going to races with Richard and father Lee Petty in 1951, with several of those trips to Daytona Beach, Florida, for races on the sand.

Dale Inman was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. Photo: Getty Images.

After attending the last sanctioned race on the beach in 1958 and the first Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February 1959, the then 23-year-old Inman was drafted into the Army seven months later.

He served as an ordnance specialist, which oversees logistics. In Inman’s case, he oversaw the movement of trucks, deliveries and repairs.

Before Inman became a seven-time Daytona 500 winner with Petty, his Army tenure was fairly routine, with one exception.

Not surprisingly, it involved racing.

“In 1960, while in France, me and some friends in the Army went to Le Mans,” he recalled. “We took tents and camped out. We got there a day or two before the race and somehow we rode around the racetrack.

“One of the boys had a car over there and we went riding around the racetrack through the streets and by the houses, which were barriers (for the racetrack). It was unreal.”

Inman was discharged in 1961 and went to work as Petty’s crew chief after the 1963 season.

“There’s no question about how things I learned in the military helped me in civilian life, things like leadership, guidance or how to run a tight ship,” Inman said. “Whether in the Army or NASCAR, if you’ve got five or more people under you, you’ve got to have a leader, right?

Dale Inman, shortly after his arrival in France with the U.S. Army in 1960. (Photo: Dale Inman)

“And you’ve got to respect the leaders. When I became a crew chief, people did respect me and I certainly learned a lot from the military. You’ve got to be disciplined, you know.”

Another story Inman likes to tell is about how “one of my heroes” – a fellow soldier who served a few years before him and someone who would one day join him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame – didn’t exactly get as good of a deal in the military as Inman did.

“They extended (the tours of service of) certain people depending on their birthday,” Inman said. “I missed getting extended an extra year by seven days.

“But Leonard Wood (one of the patriarchs of Wood Brothers Racing) got extended and he had to stay in another year, which cut into his racing.”

Not surprisingly, Wood’s specialty in the Army was the same thing that would lead him to fame and fortune in NASCAR – being a mechanic.

These days, Inman is happily retired in his hometown of Level Cross, North Carolina, where he and Richard Petty grew up together. Inman fondly recalls what the military means to him, particularly all the years it has been tied to NASCAR.

“I still get a thrill when I see the flyovers at the racetrack,” he said. “Any time I’m at the racetrack and see a veteran in a wheelchair or on crutches or with lost limbs or anything, I go out of my way to go speak to them and thank them and carry on a conversation the best I can, and I think they appreciate it too.”

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RANDY FULLER

– PR representative for Brandon Jones and Joe Gibbs Racing

– Military service: U.S. Air Force (1975-78 and 1982-2004). Served as F-16 crew chief, PR specialist, security police and recruiter.

Part of Randy Fuller’s job has been to pass out various sponsor caps to team members for photos in victory lane when his driver wins – NASCAR’s so-called “hat dance.”

Randy Fuller on guard of Air Force One. (Photo courtesy Randy Fuller)

Fuller couldn’t be more suited for that role, as he’s worn many hats in his career, including a 26-year tenure in the U.S. Air Force.

After graduating from high school, Fuller went from being a security police officer to F-16 crew chief to recruiter (he led a team of over 1,200) and marketing and public relations specialist.

He earned several of the Air Force’s most prestigious awards for his service, including for leadership and was named one of 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year in 1997.

Between his military stints, he also served as a police officer – both full-time and part-time – from Georgia to Utah to Niagara Falls.

Just days after retiring from the Air Force at the end of 2004, Fuller began wearing another cap, that of a NASCAR public relations person.

Over the years, Fuller, 62, has worked with a number of NASCAR notables while overseeing the Air Force’s NASCAR program, including Dale Jarrett, Wood Brothers Racing, Elliot Sadler and Ricky Rudd.

Shortly before he was due to retire from the U.S. Air Force a second time, then-Chief Master Sergeant Fuller was tracked down in San Antonio, Texas by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush to become a public relations person for an up-and-coming driver named Carl Edwards.

Fuller would hold that role for more than 10 years.

While Fuller took Edwards under his wing, he also treated him like a staff sergeant – in a good way.

“I’d only been working at Roush for like three weeks when we had a conversation,” Fuller said. “Carl goes, ‘Why do you always take your sunglasses off when you talk to me?’ I said, ‘Because you can tell a lot by people’s eyes and they can tell a lot by yours. It’s just a matter of respect. That’s what we did in the military.’

“Carl did that ever since. He just picked it up and embraced it. If you notice, Brandon Jones is doing that now, too.”

Since Edwards’ retirement in 2016, he still speaks with Fuller weekly while the latter has gone on to rep a number of promising young drivers including Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece, Kyle Benjamin and Jones.

“It’s pretty neat to mentor people,” Fuller said. “Between the Air Force and NASCAR, there’s so many similarities that you can’t even believe.

“But I think the biggest thing is the team. You can’t just fly an F-16. That pilot is just like the driver. You can’t fly it without the rest of the team refueling it, pre-flight, that kind of stuff, right? Same thing in NASCAR. You’ve got people that never even get recognized that are back in the shop, never go to the track. And these guys are probably some of the most important people besides the driver.”

Fuller has taken part in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual Salute to the Troops for more than 20 years, both while in the Air Force and as a team PR rep.

“The pride is huge,” Fuller said. “The hair on the back of my neck still stands up when a flyby goes across.”

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EARL BARBAN

– Spotter for Jimmie Johnson

– Military service: U.S. Marines (reserves) 1982-88. Served as a truck driver.

If Jimmie Johnson was a general in the military, you might say Earl Barban would be his soldier in charge of recon.

Earl Barban (Photo: Earl Barban)

A member of the U.S. Marine Reserves for six years, since his discharge in 1988, Barban has been one of the top spotters in NASCAR.

The 55-year-old Barban has been Johnson’s eyes in the sky for five (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2016) of the latter’s record-tying seven Cup championships.

He’s also served as spotter during in Xfinity for Chase Elliott (Barban and his wife also drive Elliott’s motor home to and from races), William Byron and Tyler Reddick, as well as Noah Gragson. Elliott, Byron and Reddick won series titles with  Barban.

He was a truck driver in the Marines, a role Barban carried over to civilian life for nearly a decade with Team Penske, piloting haulers for Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, Al Holbert, Danny Sullivan, Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi.

“I think my work ethic probably was a huge thing that transferred from the military to privately and personally career-wise,” Barban said. “Whatever the job or task at hand was, you’d just go ahead and do what you had to do to get it finished.”

Being in the military also instilled focus in the St. Louis native.

“My dad used to make fun of me that I had 21 jobs and 21 cars before I was 21 years old, everything from wiring the electric meter that goes on your house to putting the ball on Ban roll-on, mop buckets, making the blades for can openers, Steak n’ Shake hamburger flipper, rental cars and brick laying,” Barban laughed. “But it’s been 32 years in racing since then.”

Part of what led to Barban’s first job with Team Penske, followed by Hendrick Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and then back to HMS was the spit-and-polish routine he learned in the Marines.

“When you when you walk in, I think there’s a presence: clean cut, (shirt) tucked away pretty nice, pleated pants and polished boots,” Barban said. “I feel like that definitely translated into my private life after having that experience.

“I think that any person that has any military background whatsoever is definitely a good hire.”

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Roush Fenway adds Castrol as primary sponsor of Ryan Newman

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Castrol will be a primary sponsor of Ryan Newman in select Cup Series races in 2020, Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

Castrol joins a roster of sponsors on the No. 6 Ford that includes Oscar Mayer and Wyndham Rewards, which both recently extended their deals with the team.

Castrol will make its debut as a primary sponsor in the March 1 race at Auto Club Speedway.

“We are really excited to have Castrol on board as our official oil partner,” Jack Roush said in a press release. “Castrol has been a leader in engine lubrication for as long as I can recall. They have a history of competing with great success at the highest levels of motorsports. I’m looking forward to the edge we feel they will provide our race cars going forward and we can’t wait to launch our partnership in Daytona.”

Castrol was last a major primary sponsor in NASCAR when Casey Atwood competed for Brewco Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 1999-2000. It has also sponsored D.J. Kennington in a handful of starts across all three national series.

“Jack has a hard-earned reputation for success in NASCAR and all of us at Castrol are thrilled by the opportunity to join the Roush Fenway team,” David Bouet, Castrol’s US president, said in a press release.

“Castrol has a long history of partnership and success with many Ford teams – in NHRA, World Rally and with the iconic Ford GTs in endurance. We look forward to using this proven race expertise and our leading performance technology to build on the team’s record of success.”

Newman is entering his second full-time season with Roush Fenway Racing and his 19th full-time Cup season.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ‘pretty blindsided’ by Roush decision

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CONCORD, N.C. — The text message Tuesday night asked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to be at Roush Fenway Racing at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

“I’ve gotten plenty of those texts before, so I didn’t think anything of it,” Stenhouse said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But when Stenhouse’s agent called at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to say that they also had been called to the meeting, Stenhouse admitted he thought “it’s probably not very good.”

It wasn’t.

The team informed Stenhouse that he would not be retained after this season. His opening allowed Roush Fenway Racing to sign Chris Buescher for 2020.

“Didn’t know that it was coming,” Stenhouse said. “That’s part of it. People get fired every day from their jobs.”

Stenhouse said he was “pretty blindsided” by Roush Fenway Racing’s decision to release him after this season even though he had a contract through the 2021 season — although the team had the option to end the deal early.

Roush Fenway Racing officials cited a lack of performance as a reason for the move. Roush officials moved quickly once they found out that Buescher didn’t have an extension completed with JTG Daugherty Racing.

“I look forward to having cars that are more similar for both drivers that we can develop from race to race by not having so many wrecks,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday of a 2020 lineup with Buescher and Ryan Newman. “Ryan’s done really well about keeping his car together, and Chris has a history of doing the same thing.

“So we’re going to work on our cars to make them faster and to not be repairing them when they’re damaged.  We’re gonna work on a consistent car that they both like, and I think we’ll have much better success.””

Stenhouse admits he’s had bouts of crashing in his career.

I would say we’ve crashed, but I’ve lost brakes a lot of times, I’ve blown right-front tires a lot of times,” he said. “Obviously, those are wrecks. I’ve caused a couple myself, so, yeah, I definitely would say we’ve wrecked too much.”

Stenhouse said he’s gone through a variety of emotions since being informed of the team’s decision.

Over the past two days I’d say I went angry, sad, optimistic, looking forward,” he said. “Sometimes change is good and like I said, it just didn’t work. It hadn’t been working over the last couple years. We’ve had speed. We just haven’t had consistent finishes. I think that’s what sucks for myself is I feel like we’ve had plenty of speed to get the job done. It’s just a lot of things came down to us not getting those results. Ultimately, that’s what we’re here for is results, and they weren’t coming.”

Stenhouse joined Roush Fenway Racing in 2009, running seven Xfinity races that season. He won two Xfinity titles for Roush and two Cup races. When he talked about those years and Roush, Stenhouse’s voice quivered.

“I’ve got to look back on the 11 years that I had with Jack and winning races and championships and getting my first Cup win and being competitive – not as consistent as what we wanted, but the end of it all, I’m very thankful that Jack took a chance on a dirt racer from Mississippi to come drive his car,” Stenhouse said.

“It was fun, a little emotional with the relationship Jack and I have. It’s the only team I’ve ever been at, so I’m looking forward to see what’s next. Like I said, there’s a lot of work to do on that, but, all in all, I’m definitely looking forward to these last eight with the great partners that we have, everybody on the 17 team. I’ve worked with a lot of them since my Nationwide days, so it will be tough, but it will be a fun eight races with them.”

Stenhouse and Roush talked Thursday night for the first time since the team’s decision. Stenhouse called it a good conversation.

“I waited to have that conversation with Jack because having it Wednesday probably wouldn’t have been a good idea, but Jack and I, we’ve had some knockdown-drag outs in the 11 years we’ve had together, but it was a good conversation,” Stenhouse said. “I thanked him for all the good times and the fun times that we had and look forward to see what’s next.”

He also added to NBC Sports: “I still feel like I’ve got unfinished business in this series.”

Roush executive: Time with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had ‘run its course’

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Steve Newmark, the president of Roush Fenway Racing said the news that Chris Buescher will replace Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the No. 17 in 2020 resulted in a “day of mixed emotions” for the team, later adding that its nearly decade-long relationship with Stenhouse had “kind of run its course.”

Newmark provided some details of the timeframe of Stenhouse’s eventual departure and Buescher’s return to the organization Wednesday night in a 30-minute interview with host Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Jack’s Garage.”

Some of the highlights of the interview:

–Newmark said the team’s direction (which was “difficult on a lot of fronts”) on choosing Buescher was finalized Tuesday night and led to a “flurry” of activity Wednesday, which began with the team informing Stenhouse of its decision. The team released the news publicly at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

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–After a Wednesday night tweet by Buescher alluded to Roush exercising “an option” to return to the team where he raced before four years with Front Row Motorsports and JTG Daugherty, Newmark clarified that Roush retained “some residual rights that were triggered in certain instances.”

Newmark said the team was focused over the summer on improving Stenhouse’s results to make the playoffs, not in finding a replacement. But Newmark said “interesting circumstances” came up in recent weeks that led them to pursue Buescher.

“I think even we weren’t aware that those instances were going to arise here,” Newmark said. “But because of how things unfolded at JTG, it ended up we got a call recently from Chris and his representative saying, ‘Hey, as a heads up, these conditions happened, and we’re giving you notice that some of the rights that you had under this residual option are available.’

“At that point, we’ve always been interested in Chris and always continued that relationship. There have been discussions at the board level, and Jack really has put his heart and soul into trying to figure out what the best path for this organization is. And we spent some time the last week exploring different options and how to put this together and the implications.”

–Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the decision to go with Buescher “wasn’t predicated on any one factor,” but he cited Ryan Newman‘s success in qualifying the No. 6 car for the playoffs in his first year with Roush as among the factors.

“Ryan has 11 top 10s, and that whole team has put together start-to-finish races, and he’s averaging finishes of about 13.5,” which is his best average since putting up that same number in 2015.

Newmark also cited Buescher’s performance over the summer, with 16 consecutive starts where Buescher finished inside the top 20.

“So his racing style is conducive to how we’re constructed on our end,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When Chris was with us, he was one of the drivers that Ford relied on for simulators, just because of the quality of his feedback and the input he provided.

“I think all of those factors just went into saying ‘This is the right time to give Chris a chance and to see if we can put a team around Chris and have him in a position where he can excel similar to what Ryan Newman did this year.'”

The hiring of Buescher will end a seven-year run for Stenhouse in the No. 17 where he has two wins and failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons.

“At the end of the day, we, as in Roush Fenway, didn’t do our jobs and didn’t fulfill our obligations to extract the most out of the 17 program,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think there was a lot of potential there with Ricky as a talented driver and overall, and we just weren’t able to put everything together to make it as successful as quite frankly (owner) Jack Roush expects it to be, which is competing for wins and champions. That’s on our shoulders and that’s obviously a tough decision to make. We determined it just kind of (had) run its course and it was probably time to make a change.

“On the flip side, there’s obviously quite a bit of excitement about bringing Chris back into the fold. It really is a homecoming, of course. He signed with us when he was 16 years old, 10 years ago, and had our last championship (Xfinity in 2015) and I think he’s always been someone we view as your quintessential Roush Fenway driver in how he approaches racing and everything he does. I think there’s a lot of excitement to have him back in the fold because we think he can excel with the organization going forward.”