Events have been unfolding behind the scenes at Roush Fenway Racing to right the ship long before the announcement Matt Kenseth w
as getting back behind the wheel.And ironically, some of it has had to do with another one of its past successful drivers, Mark Martin. The NASCAR Hall of Famer (pictured at right with Kenseth and team founder Jack Roush) has been working with the organization he spent nearly two decades with since late last year.
The reason? Persistence from team president Steve Newmark.
“Steve Newmark’s been after me for three years,” said Martin on Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame after he did the honors of re-introducing Kenseth as an RFR driver.
“He’s accurate, it’s been a three-year plan,” Newmark smiled. “In all honesty, it all stemmed from when I watched Jack and Mark interact at an event, and just saw how it boosted the energy in both of them and they started telling stories and all that. And I realized, Mark is such a key part of our history that he can still add a lot of value.”
Martin was modest while talking about his role, saying he doesn’t believe he has a whole lot to give. However, he started assisting the organization before the 2017 playoffs started because he wanted to be an asset to both the company and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had qualified for the post-season.
Since he is not based in Charlotte [living in his native Batesville, Arkansas], Martin participates in competition meetings through phone calls, and he finds ways to reach out to Newmark or the team’s many drivers when need be.
“Quite frankly, it is fun to see him and Jack together,” said Newmark. “He’s kind of everybody’s advisor. He’ll talk to crew chiefs when they need it, he’ll talk to drivers, he’ll give me suggestions, but it’s an informal role and it is subject to when Arlene [Martin’s wife] lets him come talk to us. We’ll take as much of his time as he’ll give, but there’s no structure around it.”
One such time Martin felt he needed to be in North Carolina was earlier this season. Admitting he was concerned after the third race of the year, Martin made a special trip to the team’s campus to speak with everyone.
.@markmartin had a lot to do with bringing @mattkenseth to @roushfenway 20 years ago.— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 25, 2018
It’s only fitting he was on hand for the reunion. pic.twitter.com/IsOdNYiU2s
“And remind them, ‘Hey man, I’ve been here, I’ve done this and keep grinding,'” said Martin. “‘Keep your chin up because you can turn it around.’
“There’s a lot of really good talent in that building and there are all the tools you need to compete for wins, and the fact that’s not happening is just a matter of a little bit of direction and chemistry.”
Besides Martin and Kenseth, the company has also shifted personnel around in recent years. Kevin Kidd – who had previously worked at Joe Gibbs Racing – became competition director and Tommy Wheeler the team’s operations director.
More recently, the team went from three cars down to two and shuffled its crew chief line-up. Matt Puccia has worked with Trevor Bayne since 2016 and Brian Pattie joined Stenhouse’s team last year.
Newmark said “there’s no doubt” when asked if all of this shows the dedication and seriousness of Roush Fenway to get back on track.
“We feel like we have been going on the right trajectory,” said Newmark. “You look at the performance and even last couple of weeks, Ricky had the chance to win Texas, running third on the last restart, had a chance to win Bristol beating and banging with Kyle Larson at the end. But we want to be doing that every week and that’s a tall task.
“We feel like we put a lot of things in place with Tommy Wheeler and Kevin Kidd and restructuring the competition side that has elevated our game, but we’re still always wanting more and I think that’s a big part of bringing Matt in, because we believe he can be a differentiator and help us take that next step.”