This Week in Ford Racing September 17, 2002 Jack Roush, car owner of four Roush Racing Fords driven by Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch, has an opportunity to win both the NASCAR Busch and NASCAR Winston Cup Series ...
This Week in Ford Racing
September 17, 2002
Jack Roush, car owner of four Roush Racing Fords driven by Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch, has an opportunity to win both the NASCAR Busch and NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships this season. Greg Biffle is leading the Busch Series standings by 78 points over fellow Ford driver Jason Keller with eight races remaining while Martin holds a six-point edge over Sterling Marlin with nine events left on the Winston Cup schedule.
GREG AND MARK ARE BOTH LEADING THEIR RESPECTIVE CHAMPIONSHIP RACES. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR POSITION IN EACH SERIES? "Greg and Randy (Goss) have done just an awesome job in the Busch Series with their Grainger car. We're really excited about the way that's come along. If that was the final stop, we would have some really good time in front of us to be at prime with him and with that team. Unfortunately, it's not the final stop and Winston Cup is more complex. Some of the strategies that are specifically the best for Busch are specifically unacceptable for Winston Cup and we've got to get that sorted out. The job of identifying a car chief for Greg for the Winston Cup rookie chase for next year is the biggest thing we've got to do in preparation for next year. We haven't started that process and really don't have a list going yet. That will be the job between now and Thanksgiving -- to get started looking for a car chief that will have specific Winston Cup experience and can help Randy and the guys do their business. I talked to Greg the other day about it and he knows that's real important. The Winston Cup thing is just a crapshoot. Anybody that's in the top five, depending on who has mechanical trouble, who gets involved in crashes and/or who can put together a string of winning two races in the remaining nine. The championship will be decided by those factors. We think we've had our mechanical failures for the year and we're gonna be on a maintain mode from here on out. We're not gonna be out there doing a bunch of development work that could involve any kind of risk for the remainder of the year. If we break something it'll be because we had a parts quality issue or some variability in manufacturing that we didn't understand and we weren't able to control. We're working real hard to control those things. Mark is healthy and he's motivated. Pfizer has been a great sponsor and we'd like to give them a great chance to win a championship early in the relationship. Matt Kenseth has just been awesome winning four races and DEWALT is in for another year going forward. We're anxious to place him as high as we can and he's a wild card. He's just outside the five or six that would be expected to be within easy striking distance. Kurt Busch has certainly run well enough. We've had more than his share of mechanical issues and he's been involved in some other accidents that he wished he hadn't gotten involved with -- most of which weren't his fault. But if everybody in front had all kinds of trouble, then Kurt could be there and, clearly, we want to put him as high as we can in the top five. Jeff Burton, with Paul Andrews at the helm now, the team is being reborn and revitalized and I'll be as disappointed if we don't get him back in the top 10 as I would be if we don't win a championship with Mark."
THERE WERE SOME THINGS WRITTEN LAST YEAR ABOUT MARK QUESTIONING HIS DESIRE AND HE SAID THAT REALLY HURT HIM. HOW DO YOU FEEL TO SEE THE WAY HE'S BOUNCED BACK FROM THAT? "I don't think that's where Mark's heart was. Speaking just a little bit about what was on his mind, and I'm probably closer to Mark than anybody in the garage, Mark was having a really tough year and that was making him miserable. He was enjoying the bright spot in his life, which was the experience he was having with Matt and bringing him along. Rather than dwell on all the things that were making him crazy, he chose to be on the positive side with a lot of the discussions he had with the media and talked about Matt's program and how excited he was with that. He was a late-life father and Matt is his only son and that's a real big part of his motivation. He realized after he was well into that, that it wasn't selling well on the streets and he had to stop talking about that. But he's not less excited about Matt's program and not less focussed on Matt's future than he was last year, but things are going better for him now. He's got more good news to talk about in his own program and, through all the bad times, there was not a decision that he'd made or predisposition to not go forward for some time."
IS MARK MORE DETERMINED RIGHT NOW TO WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP? "No, I think that based on his experience and the frustrations he's had in the past that he's not counting on it, but he's certainly not counting it out and he's not going take himself out of the picture. He won't get involved in a wreck that's his fault. He won't abuse his hardware in some way that would be expected to cause trouble. He is going to take care of business and minimize his risks and wait and see what happens."
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WHEN GREG BIFFLE WAS BATTLING FOR THE TRUCK SERIES TITLE, YOU MENTIONED THAT CHAMPIONSHIPS WEREN'T A MAJOR DEAL FOR YOU. DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT WAY AND ARE YOU GETTING CAUGHT UP IN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP RUN? "Not as much as I did when I was 20 years old. We've got a wall of wins in our Huntersville (N.C.) marketing office that has around 300 successes that brought joy for our drivers, our teams, our sponsors and our manufacturer affiliate, Ford. There are more than two dozen championships on the wall as well for the various series that we've been able to win. There's only one NASCAR championship, for the truck series in 2000. But when Ford won the manufacturer's championship in 1999 and 2000, we were a contributor and enjoyed our own success even though we didn't win a driver's championship. This driver championship thing is affected by things that happen beyond your control as a team and as a driver. NASCAR keeps their fingers in it throughout the year. They've just given the Chevrolet and Pontiac an advantage for the balance of 2002, and I don't think that was good judgement on their part to dabble in it this late. There ought to be a cutoff point in the season beyond which time a team could expect no further changes. I think they'll change it again if they see the opportunity to create a scenario to improve the chance for all four manufacturers to cross the finish line simultaneously at Homestead. It's hard to prepare and execute an effective team strategy in this kind of environment. Except for appreciating those many other things that are endearments about this sport and the business, this policy would be a great deterrent to people staying in the sport for the long haul."
IN 1990 MARK HAD THE LEAD WITH TWO RACES TO GO AND YOU GUYS DID A LOT OF TESTING, PARTICULARLY BEFORE ATLANTA. DO YOU FORESEE THROWING MORE RESOURCES AT MARK AS THE SEASON WINDS DOWN? "The only thing that I've done that you would say is ratcheting it up is I sat the guys down a couple of weeks ago. Jeff Burton was there and the crew chiefs were there and I asked them to think about where we were in the season, not only in their programs but with regards to what Mark's prospects were. Mark is a cornerstone of Roush Racing. Without his continued commitment to stay with me when things were hard in the early days, there wouldn't be the four teams that we have now. There wouldn't have been a place for Matt and there wouldn't have been a place for Burton. The energy that we had that kept John Deere involved as long as they did and gave us an opportunity to bring Kurt up, those things wouldn't have existed. Not that there wouldn't have been other things that could have happened, but Mark has certainly by his energy and his commitment made it possible to do the things that we're doing. At that point there were 11 races left in the season and I told them to think about what they could do to maximize their prospects for their drivers and, at the same time, to think about paying back or giving back to Mark any idea or advice that could help him when he has this opportunity."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENED TO YOU THIS YEAR. DO YOU EVER BELIEVE IN FATE AND THAT THIS JUST MIGHT BE THE YEAR YOU WIN BOTH CHAMPIONSHIPS? "I'm certainly lucky to be alive still and the most recent encounter I had with near death was Larry Hicks. The thing about an accident is that if you miss an accident by just an inch, it never happens. Sometimes the accident that could do you in, you don't even know about. But I'm lucky to be here. I'm lucky to have lived to be 60 years old. I've had a full life and it will not be substantially fuller if I live to be 65 and win the championship or if I live to be 65 and don't. I've experienced many wonderful things. I've had a great opportunity to work with a lot of fascinating and inspiring people and have had more economic and more fundamental success at competitive things I've been involved with than I could have ever imagined as a young man."
DOES THIS SEASON HAVE TO END A CERTAIN WAY FOR YOU TO CONSIDER IT A SUCCESS OR IS IT ALREADY A SUCCESS? "It's already been successful. It'll be a travesty if Greg is not able to win the Busch championship based on the way he's run all year. We have got to turn it up a little bit for Mark to win. Consistency and wisdom for Mark in dealing with circumstances on the race track, and the way Ben and the team have recovered from adversity, is really responsible for him being in contention. In every year that I can think of, except for last year for Mark, there's been a portion of the year when he's been outstanding -- when his cars have been near dominant. You could go to three races in a row and when you drop the green flag on it, you would say, 'Mark has got a very, very good chance to win the race today. His practice times were best.' We haven't had that this year yet, and I still believe it's in front of us. Mark is real happy with the kind of setups that he's been working with. He thinks he can capitalize on those late in the year here and I do, too. I look forward to having the burst of energy and the run that he would normally have. I thought we were gonna have it at Watkins Glen and Michigan and Bristol. Those were the three that I thought were gonna get it started, but they didn't. We were not the dominant force in those three races and those are tracks that he's very good at. Loudon, on the other hand, is not one of his best tracks. Dover is a very good track for Mark and Talladega is just a jump ball. You just go to Talladega and see what you can do. We've been working hard on our cars and we've made some more power for our engines and I think we'll be better at Talladega -- notwithstanding the intervention of NASCAR and their rules. We think we'll be better at Talladega than we've been in the past."
IS THERE ANYTHING FROM THE NEAR MISSES YOU AND MARK HAVE HAD IN THE PAST THAT MIGHT GET YOU OVER THE HUMP THIS YEAR? "The reason we didn't win the championship in 1990 is that NASCAR made a call between a rule that was a supplemental rule and was written after the rulebook was published. Bill France made the decision that they had a disparity between the rulebook and what the supplemental rule was and that he would discount the supplemental rule in favor of Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt, and that we would pay the price. That's the reason we didn't win that championship. We weren't the dominant car late in the season, but the 46 points they took away from us back at Richmond in that year was the reason we didn't win. I don't think at that time he had any idea it was gonna come down to those 46 points determining the championship, but that's the way it was."
YOU TALKDED EARLIER ABOUT JUST TWEAKING ON THE STUFF YOU HAVE NOW. IN 1990 YOU TRIED A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU'VE LEARNED FROM THE PAST? "Based on where our experience was at that time and the energy Ford was able to bring to the Roush program in order to try to help a Ford driver win the championship, they coordinated the consideration for us to benefit from what Robert Yates and other programs were doing at that time. The other teams that had good hardware and had been a factor were anxious to bring to bear anything that would help with Ford's coordination. When we tested our cars and our new ideas and we tested Davey Allison's car, Mark liked the Robert Yates/Allison program better than what he saw coming for himself. It proved out that he shouldn't have done that because his finish at that race was terrible (Martin finished sixth). I forget where he finished, but it was certainly below the average he had in his own cars with the momentum he had all year. That was a mistake and he wouldn't make that mistake again, and I wouldn't be a part of that in the future."
DOVER AND OTHER FORD NOTES
* Did you know that the first NASCAR Winston Cup race run at Dover International Speedway on July 6, 1969 -- the Mason-Dixon 300 -- was won in a Ford by Richard Petty?
* Mark Martin has won the fall Dover race three times in his NASCAR Winston Cup career and they came in consecutive seasons (1997-98-99).
* Rusty Wallace is still looking for his first win in 2002 and Dover just might be the right medicine. Wallace has three wins on the Monster Mile, including a season sweep in 1994.
* Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch made their NASCAR Winston Cup debuts at Dover. Kenseth subbed for Bill Elliott on Sept. 20, 1998 so Elliott could attend the funeral of his father while Busch began his NWC career on Sept. 24, 2000.
* Davey Allison set a NASCAR Winston Cup rookie record that stood for 12 years when he won two series races in 1987. His second triumph came at Dover on May 31 when he won from the outside pole. Tony Stewart eventually broke that mark when he won three times in his rookie season of 1999.
* Ford car owner Junie Donlavey picked up his only NASCAR Winston Cup win in 1981 when Jody Ridley won the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover.
* There have been 10 different Ford drivers who have won 20 all-time NASCAR Winston Cup races at Dover. Bill Elliott leads the way with four wins while Bobby Allison, Ricky Rudd and Mark Martin have three each. Rusty Wallace has won twice in a Ford with Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty, Jody Ridley, Davey Allison and Neil Bonnett each winning once.
* Ryan Newman became the 72nd different driver to win a NASCAR Winston Cup race in a Ford with his victory last week at New Hampshire.