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2010: Roush vs Hendrick...Ford vs Chevy? Well, Jack Roush is fired up for this NASCAR cage match

 Well, Pilgrim, slap some bacon on a biscuit, and let's go. We're burning daylight. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   The battle lines for the opening weeks of the new NASCAR season seem clearly drawn:
   The supremely confident Rick Hendrick guys, fresh off another Sprint Cup championship...
   Versus the feisty and fired up Jack Roush men, still burning over last year's erratic performance, particularly noticeable in the title chase.
   That would make 2010 a classic old-school Chevy-versus-Ford thing...depending of course on how the Busch brothers do, Kurt for Dodge and Roger Penske, Kyle for Toyota and Joe Gibbs...and just how Toyota's Denny Hamlin deals with that torn ACL (why don't these car owners try to take better care of their multi-million-dollar investments anyway?)
    Matt Kenseth, who opened last season with back-to-back wins in the Daytona 500 and California 500 for Roush, and who won the 2003 Cup championship (in the runaway that led NASCAR to create 'the chase), says it simply: "We've made a lot of upgrades on our cars from last year... but the bottom line is we've got to do it on the race track – We've got to have better results than we had last year.  We've got to get back into championship form."
    For Roush's David Ragan, well, this will be Year Four since taking over Mark Martin's ride, and he knows it's time to make something big happen. The sense preseason 2009 was he would make it last year, but it didn't. Now Donnie Wingo has taken over as crew chief, and Jimmy Fennig is in the R&D shop. Ragan has one of Roush's top-name sponsors, in UPS. That's pressure, and incentive: "We've got to win races," Ragan says.


   Jamie Allison, Ford's new racing boss, firing up the troops (Photo: Autostock)

    Roush himself is putting the best spin possible on 2009, while Jamie Allison, Ford's new point-man, as racing boss, is taking a John Wayne approach to the whole situation.  "The hallmark of greatness," Allison says, "isn't what happens when you're riding high; the hallmark of greatness is what do you do when the chips are down?
     "Our godfather, Mr. Edsel Ford II, who is the spirit of Ford Racing, says 'Do not underestimate our resolve to win.'"
     Cue Jack Roush.
     And Roush, unusually quiet through much of last season, is heading into this season clearly fired up:
    "In this competitive business we've got cycles," Roush says.  "NASCAR spends every effort to make it uncertain who is going to win a race, or for that matter who is going to win the championship -- in spite of the fact Jimmie Johnson has prevailed the last four years."
    So Roush isn't conceding that his guys may have lost any edge.
    "Look at 2002 -- we were second and third in the championship (with Mark Martin losing yet another heartbreaker, by just 38 points, and Kurt Busch). 
     "In 2003 and 2004 we won the championship (with Matt Kenseth and Busch).
     "In 2005, the first year of the chase, we put all five of our teams in; I don't think there would have been a (NASCAR-ordered) decrease on the number of teams (now down to four per owner) that we could have, if we hadn't put all five in.
    "Now 2006 was a year when we weren't productive. (Still, four wins by Kenseth, two by Greg Biffle, and Kenseth missing the championship by only 56 points. That was the season that 2005's top-three, Tony Stewart, Biffle and Carl Edwards all failed to make the playoff cut.) We won races, but it certainly wasn't a banner year."
     However 2007 was less impressive. That was another Hendrick barnstorming chase, with Jeff Gordon and Johnson winning six straight playoff events (and 16 of the tour's 36), dominating the championship, and overshadowing Kenseth's win at Homestead in the finale. Kenseth wound up a distant fourth in the title race.
    But 2008 was much better, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle taking second and third in the chase. Biffle opened the chase with back to back wins, and Edwards won three of the last four....and if not for that faux pas at Talladega in the final miles, the two Roush men likely would have battled for the championship the rest of the way.
    "If Carl had not run into Greg at Talladega, Carl would have won the championship," Roush said.  "If I hadn't had two ignition systems fail, Carl would have still won."
    Which brings us to 2009, Roush conceding "a down year" overall.
    "But at the same time we won the Daytona 500 (Kenseth), and we won the second race of the year with Matt (California), and we won with Jamie McMurray at Talladega. 
     "So 2008 was a fantastic year, and we were off to a great start in 2009. We continue to cycle through things going up and down.

     You broke what doing what? Denny Hamlin (C) will have to play with a torn ACL as the season opens, and how crew chief Mike Ford (L) deals with that remains to be seen (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

      "As I look at 2009," Roush continued, "and the things we tried to do as we started 2009 – we'd made only one crew chief change on our five teams. With an increase in engineering support from Ford, with increases from all of our sponsors, we had plenty of resources. 
     "But the thing that winds up making the difference between winners and losers in a given year, as seen by me, is what you do with your time. Wrecks and broken parts notwithstanding.
    "And we (in 2009) spent our time, a disproportionate amount of it as I look back at it, trying to find that next breakthrough. That next steered
rear-axle that we introduced in 2008 (with Edwards' 'waddling' car), which was part of the reason we were so dominant on 1-1/2-mile tracks. And the coil-bound front-spring, which we introduced in 2002 or 2003.
    "We spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to find the thing that NASCAR had missed (in making the rules), the thing other teams were overlooking. That next breakthrough.
    "And guess what?  It didn't come. 
     "We didn't find it.
     "And in the meantime, we did not spend as much time getting the cars as light as they need to be, didn't spend as much time sanding on the move to a rear swaybar (considered one of Hendrick's tricks)...didn't spend as much time on a number of the nuances that were really less interesting to me than finding that next breakthrough. 
    "So we got 'best-balled' on the tweaks."

    Rick Hendrick's guys certainly had some weak spots in 2009, and Hendrick (R) will be focusing a lot of energy on getting Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L) winning again in 2010 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     And this year's game plan?
    Well, Roush has added six more engineers, for at least 36 on his four Cup teams.
    And he implies those six will be working on new 'nuanced' tweaks, like the ones overlooked last season, while his core continues searching for the next greatest trick.
    "We're going to maintain the same effort to find that next breakthrough...at the same time we've got the resources committed to be able to sand on every part of the car," Roush vows.
    So don't expect back-to-back down years here: "I learned from 2009 -- when I thought it was a slam-dunk to come back and dominate and be in contention for the championship again," Roush says. "We just missed it.
    "But it wasn't a bad year for us.  It was (just) a year that didn't meet our expectations. But we won races, and we were competitive.
    "We won two of the restricted races, the fall Talladega race and the Daytona 500, and anybody that's watched me for 22 years knows that I can hardly hit my rear-end with either hand at a restricted race.  My mind just hasn't taken me there. And we haven't demonstrated, from a management point of view, the ability to really make strides there."
    In fact, if Edwards' late-race move at Talladega in the spring hadn't gone awry, Roush might easily have won three of the four plate races, pointing to some breakthroughs.  "Todd Parrott, Robbie Reiser and the Ford people carried me on their back," Roush said, "to where we could really be -- if not dominant -- certainly more competitive than we've ever been on the restricted tracks."

   For David Ragan (R) this looks like a make-it-or-break season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Edwards at Talladega wasn't the only close-but-no-cigar:
   "We broke some engine parts we didn't expect to break," Roush points out.
    "Greg Biffle ran out of gas at Michigan -- where he ran Jimmie Johnson out of gas, and Mark Martin ran both of them out of gas. 
     "We had several missed opportunities in 2009.  We learned from 2009.
     "So we will win more races in 2010 -- given the same amount of opportunities. And we're going to try to be ready to take a bunch
of them hands-down."
       And Allison says Ford is cranking a PR push for some milestones it expects: "Jack has 399 wins, combined in NASCAR and sports car racing. 
Nothing would be more fitting than for us to notch Number 400 very soon in NASCAR.
    "The other milestone is Ford is five wins away from 600 wins in Cup."
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   Can Carl Edwards drive his way back to greatness in 2010 for Roush....while changing diapers in the motorcoach lot? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Not much to add...

Whoops...seems this article .. although it MAY be interesting...has left most of us out here in "reader land" with not much to say..or add...or even ponder. Hope that's not indicative of Roush's upcoming season!

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