Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Roush pleased, but not like you'd think
By Mark Ashenfelter
Special to ESPN.com
Look fast, and one might just catch Jack Roush relaxing for a few minutes while NASCAR parties this week in Manhattan following one of its most successful seasons to date.
But rest assured, one of NASCAR's most powerful owners has his brain working a mile-a-minute plotting how to pull off a three-peat.
With the last two Cup championship trophies in his possession, Roush will enter 2005 looking to join Junior Johnson and Rick Hendrick as the only owners to win three consecutive championships in the modern era that began in 1972.
Johnson turned the trick twice, first with Cale Yarborough and then with Darrell Waltrip. Hendrick has a four-peat to his credit, as Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte hogged the title from 1995-98, with three of the championships claimed by Gordon.
Matt Kenseth gave Roush the final Winston Cup title a year ago and the owner will be celebrating Kurt Busch's Nextel Cup crown this week.
But in the hours leading up to the finale at Homestead, Roush was busy finalizing plans for his Craftsman Truck and Busch series programs for 2005. After all, even though Roush now has two Cup titles, he has just one title apiece in NASCAR's two other national touring series.
That didn't escape Greg Biffle's attention at Homestead when he was asked what type of day it was for Roush, who won the race with Biffle and the title with Busch.
Biffle won Roush's first two championships, claiming the 2000 truck crown and the Busch title two years later. Biffle ran the full Busch schedule this year, but engine woes kept him from battling Martin Truex Jr. for the title, though he did come home third in points. And Carl Edwards was fourth in the truck series, so Roush -- who had three drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup -- still had a season to remember.
"He could have won all three," Biffle said. "I feel like we didn't put forth enough effort to win them all, but he could have went from three years ago never winning a NASCAR championship to winning all of them this year -- all three of them -- and had them won, if it weren't for some of the issues that we had along the season that I feel were preventable."
In other words, as great as '04 was for Roush's racing empire, it could have been significantly better. And that's all the motivation Roush needs entering 2005; well, that and the fact he plans on having all five of his cars in the 10-car Chase next season. Anything less simply won't be good enough. Sure his Cup teams won eight of the 10 races claimed by Ford this season, but Roush is never satisfied.
Of course, it's that drive that's taken him to today's heights. Roush felt Ford teams were at a disadvantage in both horsepower and aerodynamics in 2003, so Kenseth's title was a bit of a surprise. But he felt confident heading into 2004.
"I fully expected with the new engine program and with the new Ford this year to be a factor this year, since we kept most of our people in place and learned a lot through last year," Roush said. "I had hoped to be able to put all five in the top 10. I'm greedy that way and that certainly is our goal for next year, but if we come back and look at the chances we had to lose this championship in the last 10 -- the times that Kurt got himself caught in a situation, where he had to spin the car to miss a wreck or he had a wheel fall off [at Homestead].
"My heart stopped when I saw how close he was to pit wall and crashing [into] that pit wall head-on getting into the pits as the wheel came off. So there were many ways for us to lose this. We can't expect to win two championships in a row with all the hazards that are out there, so this is a feast or famine business. It's incredibly hard to do this and I'm just glad to have a chance to have won it twice with Kurt and with Matt and I look forward to repeats for Kurt or Matt and the other guys."
Busch certainly won't be surprised. He knows if Roush is tied to something, it has a great chance to succeed.
"Jack is just a true, true competitor," Busch said. "He's a racer from the word go and that's who I modeled myself after when I got to this point and he's helped me get to this point."
A day before the finale, Roush was asked what his first year as championship Cup owner had gone. After talking about how his bitter disappointments -- including four runnerup finishes with Mark Martin -- left him saying he didn't care if he ever won it all, he admitted it was special.
"I was prepared to be angry, you know, as long as I did this for what they've done to me and for what my frustrations had been over a period of time," Roush said. "So, it took me a while to get detoxed from that, to get settled down, so my year in the first championship, my year has been coming back and getting a normal, even-keel toward the championship race."
Roush did that and more, as he's once again celebrating as the championship owner. His speech on Friday night at NASCAR's awards ceremony will come from the heart.
But ask him about 2005 and Roush quickly turns serious.
"Well, we're two for 18, that's 11 percent, that's not very high," Roush said. "I did a little better than that before I started stock-car racing, and I expected to [win more in NASCAR]. But, we are on our way. That's two out of 18, and it's not zero for 18."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.