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The 'new' Jack Roush: Savoring the moments

    When the stars align on pit road, Carl Edwards will get his wins, team owner Jack Roush says (Photo: Autostock)

    By Mike Mulhern

    Just a bit too much high drama here, to be honest.
    Fortunately NASCAR's cat-in-the-hat, Jack Roush, has nine lives.
    His first brush with disaster, that plane crash near Talladega in 2002, changed his life.
    His second such brush, six weeks ago at an air show in Wisconsin, is changing his life yet again.
    But he was back atop the pit box at Michigan August 15th, just days after major facial surgery. And Roush says "If the question is 'Am I back?'  I'm back."
    And now he and his three top teams, with drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, are heading into the first round of NASCAR's championship chase playoffs this week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
     "I've had much more luck, in terms of surviving things that could have ended my time much earlier," the veteran stock car team owner was saying Monday afternoon, just before his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. 
    "I had a car wreck when I was 16, that could have been bad.  I was not injured.
    "I had a race car wreck when I was 30 that could have been bad, but was not serious. 
    "And I've had two airplane crashes in the last 10 years.
    "So I've had much more good fortune, and many more bites of the apple here, than I should have expected.
    "For the time I've got left -- and for the things I've learned -- I intend to make the biggest contribution I can to our broader society...to the business community I'm involved with in Detroit, with Ford and the automobile industry, and of course the racing community and the things around NASCAR. 
    "I'm extraordinarily grateful for the time I've got.
    "But I don't presume I've got another successful outcome to another traumatic accident like I had with my last airplane incident."

   Jack Roush: After all his near-brushes with disaster, he's not only glad just to be alive but has new empathy for others too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And now?
    "I look at the people that work for me or that work with me....I'd like to think I'm more sympathetic to their circumstance than I would be if I hadn't had my own problems," Roush says.
    It has been a sobering experience, to be sure.
    "I've taken a deep breath and savored the moment, and said 'You know, this might not have happened except for my good fortune, and making it through my trial-and-tribulation here,'" Roush says.
    "But once I've taken my deep breath and celebrated the moment that I was back, it's been business as usual for me. 
     "However I'll say that things for people who have truly been blindsided by something which happened beyond their expectation, I've been more sympathetic than I would have been before. 
     "And, to my detriment, I would say I probably hadn't been as sympathetic over things that were happening beyond people's control..."



      Jack's three in the championship chase: Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle (L-R) (Photo: Autostock)


      He's already gotten back in a plane. And he says he's physically "back to 100 percent.
    "I did lose the use of my left eye, through my facial injury, but my right eye corrects to 20-15, the same as it was. 
    "I'm driving a car. 
    "With another pilot with me I've flown two airplanes since the accident.
     "And I'm on a complete, normal schedule -- with my engineering company in Michigan and my interaction with Ford on many fronts, and of course with my race teams in North Carolina.
    "And I was really off-stage for less than three weeks, as I went through my surgeries. 
    "I think I'm back up to full potential.
     "I was on a treadmill for a reasonable period of time last evening. 
     "I'm sleeping well and eating well."

     Roush's crash at the Oshkosh, Wis., air show, July 27th, occurred while landing his Hawker Beechcraft at what is billed as the largest annual general aviation event in the world, an event that attracts over 10,000 planes.
    Roush, a veteran pilot, in a number of high-performance craft, and a P-51 war bird enthusiast, says "The thing that has impressed me -- in both of the airplane wrecks. I've had something happened.
    "I wasn't doing something that was reckless. 
    "I wasn't doing something that was mindless.
    "I simply got in a situation where I had no margin...and something happened that was a sure enough accident."


    Carl Edwards: Jack Roush's best shot at toppling Jimmie Johnson? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And now the championship playoffs beckon.
    Roush won with Kurt Busch and crew chief Jimmy Fennig in 2004, the first chase; and Roush won the 2003 NASCAR title with Matt Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser, the last championship under the traditional rules.
    And Roush almost won the 2005 championship, when his men, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, finished just 35 points behind Tony Stewart.
   Fennig is now running Kenseth's team, which has had a rough season but which has shown signs of coming around lately.
   Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin have Roush's only win of the year, at Pocono a few weeks ago.
   And Edwards, with crew chief Bob Osborne, has had the best finishing average on the tour over the summer, though still looking for his first win.
   The big question: Can a Roush man, or anyone, beat Jimmie Johnson?
   "He is the reigning champion, and certainly carries a lot of momentum," Roush concedes. "And Chad Knaus (Johnson's crew chief) has done a nice job.
    "The entire Hendrick organization, and the Chevrolet engineering team behind him, have done a commendable job.
    "But this is very, very tight competition.  It's very close.  It's a battle of inches.
    "If you go for two tires when four tires is the call, you can't be successful on that day. 
    "There has been a time for me when we've had more success than reason would dictate...and other times when we seemingly couldn't get a break. 
     "If Jimmie Johnson goes through a period where he has better success on things than reason would dictate, then he'll be a clear favorite for the championship this year. 
     "And if he has reasonable and average luck, I think he's got not much better than an average chance than a number of teams -- including our three -- to win the championship. 
     "It's not his to lose, it's his to win. The same as it is for everybody else.
    "And I think it's going to be a great competition.  It's going to keep people close to the fence."


     Remember Homestead 2008? Carl Edwards (R) wins the race, Jimmie Johnson (L) wins the championship (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     For much of the season it didn't look like Ford teams could do much with Chevy, Toyota and Dodge rivals. But in early July the Roush men got cracking on something, and Biffle and Edwards have made the most of it...though Saturday night's Richmond 400 wasn't much to talk about afterwards, particularly in light of Denny Hamlin's romp, with teammate Kyle Busch.
    "We feel we're peaking at the right time to make a championship run, and hope to do really good things at Loudon," Roush says. 
    "We missed our setups a little at Richmond.
     "NASCAR's (no) testing program prevents you from going to the track that you're going to race at... and we had carried some information based on testing we did in the Atlanta area...but it proved not to be useful to us. 
    "The cars that ran the best (at Richmond) were the cars that hadn't tested, and relied on last year's information -- Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth."

    How well might that translate to Sunday's race at the flat one-mile Loudon track? It is generally considered similar to Richmond and Phoenix.
    "Carl ran really good at Loudon in June, and we look forward to carrying that setup information back for all three cars...and use the (computer) simulations Ford has provided."
    It is in these high-tech, high-dollar computer simulation programs that NASCAR teams have struck gold. There is even talk that some have access to a 'super-computer' in Switzerland that can really put the zing in a NASCAR stocker straight off the hauler.
   And that's really where these races are won or lost -- in how fast a team unloads on Fridays. There is too little practice time each NASCAR weekend to play catch-up.
   The turnaround for the Richard Childress team is based on access to a new computer simulation programming company. And Roush himself said earlier this year that the problem Ford teams had was in computer simulations, so he was out in the market place for a new computer simulation operation. Apparently that search is finally paying off.
   Now can Edwards, Biffle or Kenseth make something happen in the chase?
   They'll be slight underdogs in this thing, considering Hamlin's six tour wins and Johnson's five.
   Roush is optimistic: "We've been knocking at the door. Carl has had the most points of anybody in Sprint Cup racing over the last five races, so we're anxious to carry that momentum. 
    "We've worked with the science part of our predictive simulations with our Ford partner and have arranged a package that we think is very competitive, looking at the races that are in the chase...and we're going to rely very heavily on science to help us figure out how to offset the lack of testing opportunities. And I'm very confident about it."
    Computer science....and good luck on pit road:
   "When pit stops work out the way you want -- when you've taken two tires and it's the right call, or four tires and it's the right call -- you'll win your race. 
    "That's the only thing we're waiting on: for Carl just to have things line up."


   Is there another championship on the horizon for Jack Roush? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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