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Ford's Jack Roush: His NASCAR teams "too conservative" in 2011, have to take more risks in 2012...and get more sponsors

   Jack Roush: blue skies ahead? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


    Now this is America! And if Clint Eastwood's new Halftime America  http://bit.ly/x9aOwO   doesn't stir you, nothing will.
    Clint ought to be the Grand Marshall for the Daytona 500, and this should be the leadoff commercial for the Fox production.

    And if you were paying attention over the Super Bowl weekend, you could hear Ford Motor Company yelling about a Chevrolet ad as 'unfair.' Hey, let's get these engines cranked up and get SpeedWeeks rolling right now. This new season is already shaping up as a good one.
    Now all we need is for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win stock car racing's biggest race....
    Secret photos of the new 2013 Chevrolet Impala are leaking out, and maybe that will help amp up the buzz around the new NASCAR stocker too.
   So cue up Ford's Jack Roush and let's fire him up too.
   After last season's disappointment, he may need just this shot in the arm.
   Yes, Ricky Stenhouse did win the Nationwide championship, and project Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, and Carl Edwards and teammate Matt Kenseth both had great shots at the Sprint Cup championship. But Edwards, in that stunning, historic finish at Homestead, came up just short. Not in points but in wins. Edwards had by far the best overall season, and the best average finishes, but Tony Stewart's playoff charge, five wins in the year's last 10 races, a crazy run to be honest, was too much.


Matt and Katie Kenseth and family getting pre-race pep talk from Jack Roush (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  So Roush and his men will have to avoid that early season slump which frequently follows just such a disappointment.
   "When we got back home from Homestead, I talked with Carl and Bob (Osborne, his crew chief) and told them 'We got outguessed this year, we got 'out-risked this year,'" Roush says.
   "The risks we took were focused on our highest probability for getting our best average finish, not on the greatest opportunity to win the most races. So this year we will have to balance that; we will have to accept more risks. We wound up being too conservative last year, and that was my fault more than anyone's."
    And ironically perhaps this past season for Roush and his men was a great one overall, and from start to finish.
   "This 2011 was our very best year," Roush, with more than 25 years on the tour, points out. "When you look at our average finishes, and the potential of the cars, and the number of times we missed the setup, it was our best year: Best performance for our chassis, best performance for our aero, best performance for our engineering efforts, best performance for our new FR9 engine.
   "It was the best year we've ever had.
   "Yes, Greg Biffle's team was a disappointment....based on the chemistry I had between the crew chief and the driver. We've got that behind us.
   "And I was also disappointed we were not able to realize the success with David Ragan that would have helped us generate sponsorship interest in him.
   "But overall if we can keep things at this level of performance we'll win our share of championships, more than our share."

    Carl Edwards, high-fiving with the boss (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And Roush is still trying to restock the larder with sponsorships, after losing some big ones.
   Sponsorship issues forced Roush to drop from four Sprint Cup teams to three, and his Nationwide operation is still looking for sufficient sponsorship. The economic shock forced Roush to cut nearly 25 percent of his crew roster. (Keep an eye on ex-Roush crew chief Drew Blickensderfer running the Jeff Burton-Richard Childress Chevy team this season.)
   "I am very hopeful we haven't lost anything," Roush says of the cutbacks. "And long term I hope to get back to that level.
    "I am disappointed for the 100 or so people we had to lay off.
    "But this sport has rhythms....."
   While Roush's sponsorship issues apparently didn't affect the 2011 season, it could be a downer in 2012.
   "It is ironic that we are coming off from a year that, from a performance point, was our best ever and then find out that it wasn't our best year in attracting sponsors," Roush says ruefully.
   "But that has to do with we had a change at the top...."
   That was Geoff Smith's decision to leave the job as chief sponsorship developer, after holding that post throughout Roush's many years in this sport. Replacing him, Steve Newmark. And the changeover came not only at a bad point in the general U.S. economy but also at the point where so many of Roush's major sponsorships were up for renewal.
   The key losses were UPS, Aflac and Diageo/Crown Royal.
   "When Steve Newmark got the baton, we lost some of the energy that Geoff Smith had provided for more than two decades," Roush says. "It was Steve's first year in charge.
   "If we'd had Geoff in his old post, I don't think we'd have had to shelve David Ragan and that team.
   "But it is what it is, time doesn't stand still, and we'll move forward.
   "I feel great about things -- the economy is moving ahead, the interest in NASCAR and attendance at races is strong, and my engineering business up north is up to 120 percent of what it was before we had this economic downturn. So I'm confident the fan interest and sponsorship interest will rebound here as well."



Greg Biffle: 3M signed a new sponsorship contract early. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Newmark points out the big issue: "We did this to ourselves. We went into 2011 with all 10 of our sponsors were up for renewal.
   "We ended up signing eight of those 10, which on paper sounds like success in this climate."
   But clearly there are big holes.
   "We could have gone forward with four Cup teams," Newmark says. "And we were close to doing that. But we made the decision that if we consolidated what we had, that would give us the best chance to win.
   "But I know Jack will be pressuring us to get four Cup teams next year.
   "And Ricky (Stenhouse) will be running for us in the Daytona 500, and I know if Ricky wins it, Jack will be in my office the next day saying 'Okay, we're running Ricky in all the races, right?'"
  Pressure, pressure.

  Yes, the Nationwide championship trophy for Jack Roush. But that Sprint Cup trophy eluded him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And a significant sponsorship issue continues to surround Trevor Bayne, the 20-year-old surprise Daytona 500 winner who may be chaffing at the continued lack of full-time sponsorship.
   "Trevor figures into our future, and he has great opportunity to do things, and I hope he can do them with me in a program I can create," Roush says. "Our first preference is that he have a home on a RoushFenway car; our second, is that he find success with another Ford team, and for the time being we have him in the Wood brothers' program."
   That's a Newmark project: "Tentatively we have Trevor scheduled to run in about half the races, and our goal is to run him full-time in all the Nationwide races," Newmark says.
   "In the old days you could set your lineup the summer previous...but we're still in some discussions.  Our ultimate goal is to have Trevor full-time in Cup, and what development do we need to get him there. He will get that critical mass of races.
   "We hope to run him for the Nationwide championship; otherwise he'll be in my office every day...."
   As young and charismatic as Bayne is, how is it he's still working the sponsorship market?
   "The climate has been tough. Trevor is an incredible talent, but look at all the veteran, talented drivers out in the market too," Newmark says. "Any other time and those veterans wouldn't be on the market. Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer....
   "It is as tough as it's ever been in NASCAR to be a development driver. It's to the point where if you don't bring money, you don't get a seat. Fortunately Jack has said that's not the way we're going to approach it."

   Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne, Jack Roush's two up-and-comers. But where's the sponsorship? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One big question in the overall NASCAR sponsorship issue is how much return on investment do companies get now with NASCAR? Has the price point for running a Sprint Cup team, or Nationwide team for that matter, simply gone beyond the market? Once a Cup team could be competitive for $5 million a year; lately that price point has gone beyond $20 million.
   And this sport's new rules -- the development of the new Nationwide car-of-tomorrow, the development of the 2013 Cup car, the introduction of electronic fuel injection this season -- are making it even more expensive to play this game.
   Roush, for example, says it will cost him about $1 million for each of his three Cup teams to make the engine transition from carburetors to fuel injection.
   But what about the man himself, at a personal level: What about Roush himself?
   At 69, with two near-death experiences, does he still have the fire in the belly for all this, the passion?
   "I don't see any waning of the passion for it, but my biological clock is ticking and there will be a limit to how long I can get up and stay active at it and make a meaningful contribution," Roush says slowly.
   "But I can see a decade in front of me, and I think I'll do well at least until my late 70s. And we'll see what life brings. I'm going to bask in the sun as long as I can.
   "I nearly killed myself in Oshkosh, Wis., in July 2010. I accepted a clearance (to land his private plane at a busy air show) from a controller who probably wasn't paying as much attention to me as he should have been. I complained about it (before trying to land), and I resisted it...but I in fact accepted the clearance and started to do something that left me no margin (of safety). Then they put another airplane on the runway in front of me, and there was no place for me to land. At that point I was too low and too slow to effect a save, and I crashed.
   "I should have killed myself on that day.
   "And the fact that I made that decision and allowed myself to get caught up in that is one of the few decisions in life I wish I had done differently."
   The accident cost Roush the sight of one eye.
   Roush has had more than one:
   "I have had two (bad) car wrecks, I have had two airplane wrecks, and I have had one bout with cancer. Every time something like that happens, you have to look at your own mortality.
   "I have raised with my wife three happy, healthy children, and I am proud of them and what their lives mean. And I have maintain security for myself and my family and created opportunities for thousands, if not tens of thousands. I have some 4,000 families that rely on me.
   "So each time I've been on my back in the hospital and said 'Wow! Would I have changed things if I knew it were going to end today?' the answer is I wouldn't have changed anything."

    The boss says he's optimistic about 2012, after a sizzling 2011. But it takes dollars....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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