CHARLOTTE – Two team owners with a combined 244 wins were among the five new inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Roger Penske and Jack Roush, each with Mooresville racing operations, were joined by four-time champion Jeff Gordon as well as late drivers Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki for enshrinement during ceremonies held Friday, Feb. 1. They were the 10th class, and increased the Hall's total number of honorees to 50.
The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship was just the latest accomplishment for racing titan Penske, who has spent 52 years in the sport.
His son Gregory called him the Vince Lombardi of motorsports, and while Penske doesn’t yet have a trophy named after him like the former Green Bay Packers coach, he’s produced multiple champion teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar.
And despite his multi-decade run, Penske’s most recent chapter may be the most impressive. Team Penske won its first-ever Cup Series Championship in 2012 via Brad Keselowski, followed by three consecutive NASCAR XFINITY Series Owners' Championships from 2013 to 2015. In 2016, Penske’s drivers claimed the top three positions in the NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“Our team is the strongest it’s ever been,” Penske said during his induction speech.
Known as “The Captain,” the 82-year-old was introduced by his trio of star NASCAR drivers: 2018 champion Joey Logano, Keselowski and Ryan Blaney.
“I think it’s a byproduct of how we run our business” Penske later said of having those three on stage with him. “We want to bring people in who have talent and want to grow. You look at our crew chiefs in Indy and NASCAR, look at our drivers, people who have come up, something like Rick Hendrick has done with Jeff (Gordon).”
Logano had top 10 finishes in eight of the 10 playoff races last season, when Keselowski finished eighth overall and Blaney 10th.
“We invest in the future,” Penske said. “The culmination tonight is those three young guys who are maybe going to be around a lot longer than I will be, will be real winners. To see what they delivered the last half of the season, every one of them was just amazing. To have them up there, them being here was special.”
He moved into his shop off Mooresville Boulevard in 2004, relocating from Reading, Pa. The NASCAR teams' move was completed in March 2005. Two years later, the IndyCar operations made Lake Norman home, a move that Penske says provides an advantage in collaborating between engineers.
“Everybody’s in the same shop, and there’s lots of coordination and discussion on engineering,” he said, noting the teams all practice pit stops in the same area. “All of that talent that’s going over the wall has the same management, so I would say from a human capital standpoint, over-the-wall guys, they’re working together all the time. And as you saw me change people up for Joey the last few races, it made a difference.”
One week, an engineer might work on Logano’s Ford Fusion. The next, he may be making changes to Helio Castroneves’ Chevrolet engine.
“I think it’s just a cross-pollination of what people want to do, but we’re going to put the best people in the position that we think is going to make us the best,” Penske said. “We don’t have a Mason-Dixon line or some line here. We’re an open organization for whatever can happen.”
And what has happened is a powerhouse of motorsports, with 1,939 NASCAR starts and 107 wins. Still on his racing bucket list is a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, but reaching the Hall is at the top.
“I’m not sure I can sit up here tonight and say what’s the step I can take,” Penske said. “I think about the people who are already in it and the ones that will follow me, I think there’s a place in time that’s pretty special and I think it’s at the top of the list.”
For Roush, it all started with Mark Martin.
The fellow Hall of Famer was the owner’s first driver in 1988, when he had three top-five finishes and made $223,630. By the time Martin retired from his Roush Ford in 2005, he claimed 40 checkered flags and had made $92 million in earnings.
“Were it not for Mark Martin, support of Banjo Matthews, Bobby Allison, Glen and Leonard Wood and counselor John Cassidy, I would not have survived to even earned a footnote in the chronicles of the sport,” 76-year-old Roush said in his induction speech. “Mark’s a really special guy, once so determined to succeed in NASCAR at the highest level, he did not even ask what I could afford to pay for his services when we first discussed the teams’ and my ability to provide for them.”
Beyond Martin, Roush, formerly a Ford engineer and college physics teacher, has had some other good drivers too. Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch each claimed premier cup championships in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and back-flipping Carl Edwards’ win at Dover was the 100th in Roush team history. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won two Xfinity Series championships, joining Greg Biffle and Chris Buescher as Roush champions.
But off the track, Roush has survived a pair of unlikely partnerships – and plane crashes – in the second half of his ownership tenure.
In 2003, he signed on with engine builders – and one-time rivals – Robert and Doug Yates, forming Roush Yates Engines as the exclusive Ford engine builder for NASCAR. The company has three Mooresville properties, including the engine facility on Rolling Hill Road that has produced more than 28 wins between NASCAR, IMSA and FIA series, including Logano’s machine in 2018.
“Jack Roush is my hero,” said Doug Yates, whose father was inducted last year posthumously.
But the 2007 partnership with Boston Red Sox owner John Henry led to even bigger changes. Roush Racing became Roush Fenway Racing in the same year Henry’s baseball team won its second World Series in four seasons.
“I could not have asked for a more patient, supportive and like-minded partner than John,” Roush said. “Over the past 31 years, our Ford cars and F-150 trucks have been sponsored by more than 100 of the best partners in all of motorsports. Their support has provided the opportunity for Roush Fenway to take part in some of the most successful and innovative marketing programs in NASCAR history.”