HAMPTON, Ga. It’s not that Jack Roush ever doubted NASCAR would make its new race car the one Roush Fenway Racing had to use in Sprint Cup competition.
“I believed NASCAR would have its way, as it always does,” he said.
Roush wasn’t a big fan of the idea, but the owner of five Cup teams said that’s not the reason his operation fell behind in developing the car that was first rolled out nearly a year ago.
“I misjudged what NASCAR was going to do,” he said. “They indicated they were going to start us off with the car of tomorrow with four or five tests and everybody was going to have the same opportunity and it was going to be a level playing field.”
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But by the time the car was first used in the spring 2007 race at Bristol, Tenn., other teams had been testing at tracks where the Cup Series doesn’t run and Roush found out quickly that his teams were in a hole.
Hendrick Motorsports-owned cars won the first five races using the new car. Roush-owned cars, meanwhile, had three fifth-place finishes in those races as Roush finally ramped up a full-blown testing team to help dig his teams out of that early hole.
One year later, the story seems very different.
Carl Edwards won back-to-back at California and Las Vegas in the first two races where the new car was used on the intermediate down-force style of track that is the bread and butter of Cup racing. Roush had three of its five team cars in the top seven Sunday at Las Vegas and another affiliated team, Yates Racing’s Travis Kvapil, finished eighth.
“Last year was behind us and I had wasted it because I misjudged what I needed to do,” Roush said of his team’s turnaround. “I listened more carefully and I watched more carefully over the winter and I think that we’re caught up. I certainly don’t feel that we have an advantage, but I think that on any given Sunday there are probably 20 cars that could win the race and four or five of them are our cars. I feel proud of that.”
Roush said he objected originally to the new car simply because of what it’s arrival meant financially for his operation.
“We made obsolete 20 cars per team and about 15 show cars per team,” he said. “They all had to be replaced at one time. That’s a huge, huge cost. I’m a farm boy from southern Ohio and I just hate wasting things that have got use left in them. I straighten nails in order to be able to use them again, so that was against my upbringing and it was fundamentally against my business principles to have to do that.”
Roush said that wasn’t what stopped him from having a testing program in place when the new car rolled out. NASCAR rules requiring teams to turn in the tires purchased at the track each weekend, he believed, were designed to keep teams from testing on their own, and he said he felt confident NASCAR would enforce things toward that end.
“Two other manufacturers made tires that were OK for testing and tracks like one in Nashville and one in Iowa and other tracks around the country opened up their gates and said, ‘Y’all come,’ “ Roush said. “By the time we got to Bristol, we were thousands of miles behind the information a number of other teams had on the car.
“It was my fault for not hoarding tires. It was my fault for not testing NASCAR. If I would have been the first team to go test and been the only team out there, I’m sure I would have been penalized for it. I expected other teams to be penalized, and NASCAR didn’t do that and we got behind.”
Based on what’s happened this season, though, that’s all in the past. Edwards seems to be back in the form he showed in the No. 99 Ford in 2005, his first full season, in which a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway was his first career Cup victory.
“Winning races is the greatest part of this whole thing for me,” said Edwards, who after last week has nine career wins. “Winning a championship would be the ultimate, so what we’re trying to do is win the championship this year. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
Roush’s teams won championships in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and 2004 with Kurt Busch, then put all five of its cars in the Chase for the Cup in 2005. After back-to-back championships for Jimmie Johnson and a dominant year by Hendrick Motorsports last season, Roush’s teams appear ready to rumble once more.
“We aren’t as good as it would appear to be for having won the past two races,” Roush said. “But we weren’t as bad as it looked like we were when we couldn’t win a race for part of last year.”