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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