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Patience, patience. Jack Roush insists he's got it, but it may only go so far.....

   Team owner Jack Roush (R, here with David Ragan) loves challenges and projects, and he's certainly got a lot on his plate as summer approaches (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   I don't think Jack Roush ever bought that farm down south of Greensboro that he talked about when he showed up for his first run at NASCAR, with Mark Martin going at it for his second time around.
   He was trying to get into the spirit of stock car racing, I reckon.
   Roush picked a spot for his first Cup shop that was out in the sticks, somewhere near Petty Enterprises, down on NC 49 – that straight-shot to the backdoor of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Beautiful countryside, though just a plain-Jane, all-business shop, in Roush's once staunchly utilitarian approach to this sport. Where some teams back then had a couple of sofas and TVs up in the front of their haulers, for unwinding, Roush had a full-bore machine shop-on-wheels.
   Well, time has marched on, and 1988 isn't even in the rearview any more, it's so long gone.
   Now Roush has a spiffy-modern Architectural Digest 'campus' operation next door to Concord Airport and just down the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
   And remember when Richard Childress, before he became a big star in all this, worked out of a one-bay garage in Southside Winston-Salem.....
   From one team Roush expanded to five-plus, considering all the sideline racing operations he's got going.
   But one thing hasn't changed – just like he gave Martin a second shot at this sport, Roush has spent a lot of time and effort and money developing people: drivers, crew chiefs, and more.
   And now -- while rival team owners have all but given up on their driver development programs, or put them on the far back burner, as too expensive, too hard to predict, to difficult to see return on investment -- Jack Roush is still full-steam ahead.


   Colin Braun: Roush is banking on this 21-year-old Texan making it big, and he's investing a lot to make it happen. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Driver development?
    Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
    Remember when Rick Hendrick took a shot at little-known Jeff Gordon back in 1993...and then had to endure more than a dozen first-season crashes?
    Well, Gordon panned out....fortunately rather quickly at that.
    And so did unheralded Jimmie Johnson...
    Kevin Harvick, the current Sprint Cup tour points leader, is a successful product of Richard Childress efforts, in a sudden rush, back in '01 to boot. And Clint Bowyer was a gamble that paid off too.
    Similarly, Roush's three current stars, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are all up-the-ladder men.
    Gibbs has been successful in hitting home runs with newcomers: Denny Hamlin, from out of southside Richmond; Joey Logano, highly touted but still a gamble at just 19.
    But driver development has become seemingly a lost art, or rather simply too expensive for the frequently iffy returns. The ditches on the side of the NASCAR highway are filled with once-promising careers.
    And Ford, considering the economy, dropped its NASCAR Truck division, taking away one good venue for seeing just how tough a driver might be, at a relatively cheap price.
    So now Roush is using the Nationwide series for watching for signs of development. (And he's got a pretty good benchmark in double-duty Edwards.)


    Carl Edwards: the benchmark for Jack Roush's up-and-comers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    One of the many issues for Roush on the stock car trail as summer approaches is David Ragan, the fourth Cup driver on his roster,
    Ragan, the quiet but personable son of NASCAR journeyman racer Ken Ragan, is not on the hot seat; he's got another year on his contract, and the sponsor UPS is good.
    However Ragan hasn't exactly been burning up the asphalt. Not that Ford drivers are kicking butt in general.....
    But, and this is key perhaps, Ragan is just 24. Good upside potential.
   And that's what Roush is banking on:
   "David certainly showed great ability early on," Roush says.
    "After the race at Pocono, David flew with me -- in the copilot seat beside me -- as we traversed the thunderstorms coming back into the Charlotte area.
    "So I had a couple of hours with David, in the car and in the airplane, to really talk about what his frustrations were, and what his hopes are for the year.
    "David is extraordinarily skilled.
   "He's patient. He's mature beyond his years. And he deserves better -- and we will achieve better success for him than he's had.   
   "But he's still 'junior' in experience...and when you have a problem with our cars -- as we do with our (computer) simulations right now -- David is more susceptible to that than the others.
    "But as we get ourselves straightened out, as we get that aspect of our program stronger, I am very hopeful that David can compete for a spot in the chase as he did two years ago, and win a race this year."
    Ragan is not Roush's only 'project.' He's working to get Paul Menard into high gear too.
    Roush is also trying to be patient with two young newcomers, Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse.

   Ricky Stenhouse: Just 22, and promising...but too many crashes? Well, how many did Jeff Gordon have his rookie season? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    And it would help everyone in the Blue Oval camp if Ford's racing simulation programs were more predictive....
    Patience? Roush is trying to be cool as an engineer about it all.
   "Let me tell you what my schedule was in happier times and easier times -- I would spend one day in North Carolina and two days in Michigan: either bouncing grandbabies or getting my battery charged and getting ready to go to the next race.
    "My schedule now is a solid two days in North Carolina. This week I'll be three days in North Carolina -- I'm looking the guys in the eyes and saying 'Okay, are we missing something here? Has anybody seen something they think is different or revolutionary?'
    "We've reviewed spy pictures off satellites from Pocono of other cars at various places on the track. We saw some things.
    "Those things will be reflected in our cars at Michigan."
    Spy satellites?
    Now that's the Jack Roush the media enjoys...
     But this driver development thing, is it really working? How much patience will it take?
     Roush is pushing it hard: "Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse are both guys,  youngsters in their 20's, who don't have a lot of experience...but who have great potential. And we're really excited about their future.
    "You never know with a young person what they're going to need to experience before they've got the maturity to be able to go on and do what they might.
    "Colin and Ricky have both had more wrecks this year, and more problems that were self-induced, associated with their lack of experience. So we've had them in the cars and out of the cars, we've tried different crew chiefs...as we've tried to figure out what we could do to accelerate the maturing process.
    "And I think that we're on track with both.
   "It was unfortunate that Ricky spun out qualifying at Nashville (last weekend) and wasn't able to capitalize on the speed he demonstrated. He was probably better than he's been all year. All four (Roush Nationwide series) cars were better than they've been all year.
    "It was a shame he missed that, and didn't qualify.  But the reason he was there (not high enough in points to make the field that way) was because he'd had so many wrecks.
    "We've had a lot of skull sessions; we've had a lot of rapping our knuckles on the tabletops.
     "We've had a lot of things to do to try to encourage the guys to mature at the absolute fastest pace, so we can finish the races -- so we can let the crews have a chance to work on the cars and develop strategies.
    "We're going to see a totally different result in the second half of the year for both those guys than we've seen in the first year, I guarantee you.
    "Stay tuned: it's going to get better."

    Jeff Gordon: Doesn't look like he's laughing about GM's latest PR stunt --- banning the use of the word 'Chevy.' Somebody in Detroit is surely joking. Must be some tongue-in-cheek ad campaign. Or maybe some of those new guys really are just daft. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The NASCAR Notebook:

   So General Motors executives have decided it's time to dump the 'Chevy' name?
   That ought to be good for a laugh.
   Heck, it's good enough for a hoot-and-holler.
   Especially since the memo announcing the decision pointed to 'Coke' and 'Apple' as examples. Coke of course is a diminutive of Coca-Cola, and Apple is not a specific product but a company that markets iPods and such.
   Chalk it up to more confusion at GM and Chevrolet, perhaps in the wake of all those management shakeups.
   Wonder if Jeff Gordon will have to change his dealership website www.jeffgordonchevy.com    But wait! Here's GM's late-breaking reaction to the reaction:  http://bit.ly/apSDR5 

   Drivers will have more horsepower, with a slightly larger carburetor restrictor plate, for Daytona's 400 July 3rd, NASCAR announced Monday.
  It will be the largest Daytona plate since plates were mandated for Daytona and Talladega in 1988, following Bobby Allison's flying crash at Talladega.  
  Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's competition director, said the change would compensate for the extra aerodynamic drag on Sprint Cup cars with the change from the rear spoiler wing to the flat-blade.
   The four-hole plates will have diameter openings of 1-1/32nd-inch. That's a bit larger than the Daytona 500 plate holes of 63/64ths. The Talladega plate used last month had holes of 15/16ths.


Mattias Ekstrom (L) listens intently to Casey Mears (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Jay Frye has indeed picked Swedish racer Mattias Ekström to run Brian Vickers' car at Sonoma June 20th.
   The move is somewhat of a surprise, considering Ekström has never raced a NASCAR stocker. However he tested well two weeks ago at Virginia International Raceway. "We only had one day for the test, and we were concerned about how long it would take him to get up to speed," Frye, general manager for Team Red Bull, said. "But it only took him an hour.
   "He's a phenomenal talent."
   Vickers has been sidelined while getting treatment for blood clots.
   "It's always nice to try something new," Ekström said. "At the test I felt really at home. So now going to a race will be very nice.
   "The biggest difficulty will be to race with 42 other cars. I'm sure it will be interesting."
   Uh, might be right on that....


  Joey Logano got the wrong half of this 'boys, have at it' Sunday at Pocono. Think he might wait till the September chase to express his displeasure with Kevin Harvick's bump?  (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So this 'Boys, have at it' thing....is it working?
   Wow! Boy, is it working.
   Now if NASCAR can just get the TV audience back in sync, we might have a 'tipping point' here.
   Team owner Jack Roush is taking that with a grain of salt, of course. He wound up in the middle of that Carl Edward-Brad Keselowski controversy a few weeks back, and now he's waiting to see how AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne sort out their issues, in the wake of Sunday's run-in at Pocono.
   "What NASCAR wants -- and what the fans want to see -- is the absolutely most contentious circumstance between people that have passion and ability and motivation to be able to get the prize," Roush says. "And when people care enough and are involved enough, and it's contentious enough, there's hurt feelings and aggression displayed.
    "When somebody puts a foot wrong, there's always consequences....many times consequences beyond that person's expectation, and beyond their imagination.
   "Had AJ realized by blocking Kasey he was going to cause Kasey to wreck, and then wreck half the field behind him, he certainly would not have done that.
    "But because he cared so much -- because he wanted that eighth place or ninth place, versus 10th or 11th, he went down and blocked, and something bad happened.
     "Happily they didn't wind up in a hairball, and (team manager) Foster Gillette did not wind up in the NASCAR trailer....
     "But it makes it interesting -- It's real, it's not staged.
      "This is not World Wrestling Association. It's real.
    "And when people care as much as they care, and try as hard as they try, emotions spill over.
    "It makes interesting entertainment.
     "When NASCAR looked at what they needed to do to stimulate more interest for the fans, to sell more tickets, to have better TV viewership, they thought they should let the drivers take the gloves off.
    "Not that they should roll around on the ground, but they should be more free to express themselves....they should be more willing to make a decision on the track that might result in something questionable.
     "Certainly NASCAR racing has to be good, wholesome family entertainment. We're not going to make a brawl out of it.
    "But to have people express their emotions, and show their frustrations, is not something that I think is a bad thing. I think it's okay."

   Atlanta Motor Speedway, long a problem track for tires, may get some new rubber for the Labor Day weekend 500. Goodyear has scheduled a two-day test June 15th and 16th. Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman will do the test.

   Team owner Bob Jenkins has promoted team engineer Brian Burns to interim crew chief for Travis Kvapil, beginning this weekend here, while Steven Lane serves a 12-race NASCAR suspension.

   Team owner Richard Childress has promoted ARCA driver Tim George Jr. to his Nationwide tour team as a development driver, beginning next weekend at Wisconsin's Road America. 

   Footnote to Jimmie Johnson's win over Clint Bowyer in Wednesday night's 'Prelude to the Dream' at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway: They were both driving cars prepared by Clint Bowyer Racing, with engines built and prepared by Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines.

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  David Ragan: Carrying a lot of pressure, but he seems to be wearing it well (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jack Roush

It's too bad that Roush didn't give Erik Darnell the same shot he's giving Ragan, Stenhouse & Braun. Erik is a good driver but was never given a full season in Nationwide or Cup to prove it.

Glen H.

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