Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR

NASCAR’s “Cat in the Hat” to Become the “Cat in the Hall (of Fame)”

By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – His name is spoken in automotive rarefied air. And as a NASCAR team owner, an engineer, an innovator and all-around highly respected member of the sport, Jack Roush will be formally inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on February 1.

For so many, Roush’s official new title as “NASCAR Hall of Famer” was inevitable and necessary. Not only did the former Ford Motor Company engineer field championship cars at every level of NASCAR competition, he is considered one of the sport’s most important innovators.

From helping to create the “roof flaps” installed to keep cars from easily launching off the ground to running championship race teams across all of NASCAR’s primary series, the 76-year old Roush has been a staple of the sport and now he will be ceremoniously celebrated as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019.  He joins team owner Roger Penske, the late Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, the late Davey Allison and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon in this year’s highly-regarded Hall of Fame class.

“It’s awesome and on the back of giants,’’ Roush said after his name was announced.

“Who would have thought it,’’ he added. “Thirty-one years ago when we first got started, I was just hoping to stay in the sport a little while.

“I cannot imagine my name is with the 45 people already inducted and all the things they accomplished. And of course with Mark [Martin] being in there, Roger Penske being in there and my Wood Brothers friends being in there. It’s rarefied air and I have to take a while to think about it and all it means to me. But it’s certainly taking my breath.”

Roush’s former and longtime Cup series driver Mark Martin – a 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee himself – wasn’t surprised about his longtime friend and team owner earning the sport’s greatest honor. A Hall of Fame voter, Martin was among the very first to congratulate Roush and remind everyone of the important contributions his friend has made to NASCAR and racing in general.

“It means everything in the world to me,’’ Martin said. “I’m so happy with this class and so happy for Jack.

“Jack Roush did so much for so many people, not just for me, in giving me my second chance when no one else would but so many other great race car drivers and all the other people in the shops he mentored, encouraged and gave the all the tools that were it not for Jack Roush wouldn’t have had the opportunity to succeed. … Just the kind of person Jack is and has been and what he’s meant to all those people we celebrate today because of him.”

Roush joked that he was just hoping “to stay in the sport awhile” when he initially became involved in NASCAR 31 years ago after a celebrated career at Ford Motor Company – an association still so important to Roush today that he has only ever fielded Fords in competition.

His first fulltime Cup season was 1988 when he fielded a Ford for Mark Martin. The team’s first victory came the following year at Rockingham, N.C.  And Martin answered that maiden win with three more the following season and finishing runner-up to the late Dale Earnhardt by 26 points in the Cup championship.

Including that first victory at Rockingham, Roush has 137 total wins at the Cup level – second only to fellow Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick. He led his team to back-to-back Cup titles – for Matt Kenseth in 2003 and then Kurt Busch in 2004. And in addition to the big trophies, he finished championship runner-up another eight times – including four seasons with Martin.

Roush teams earned 137 wins in the Xfinity Series and five championship trophies, including current Roush Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s back-to-back titles in 2011-12. His last came with driver Chris Buescher in 2015.

His teams have 50 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins and the 2000 series championship with driver Greg Biffle. Twice more Roush truck teams finished runner-up with Biffle in 1999 and Kurt Busch in 2001.

In all, Roush has an amazing 324 NASCAR premier series victories – most all-time. Fellow Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick has 301.

And yet if you were to ask Roush what he considers the most important victory of all, he undoubtedly will say his very first.

“I’m most proud of winning that first race with Mark in 1989 in Rockingham, because what it meant to me was I could find a sponsor to keep going. And what it meant to Mark, the team would be solid and keep putting cars under him,’’ Roush explained. “There was some doubt in both our minds if we were going to be able to turn the corner and both stay.”

That staying power has been crucial and well-praised.  Even at the age of 76 he is a staple in the garage and on the pit box. This season he will field Fords in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman. The expectations remain the same through all these decades. Succeed and lead. It’s a theme Roush has stayed true to.

“I can’t believe I’ve been the recipient of so much great schooling and great support to accomplish all the things I dreamed of and some of the things I never dreamed of,’’ Roush said.

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