Roush tests five drivers at Phoenix By Dave Rodman

PHOENIX (Nov. 16, 1999) Four veteran NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams tested Ford F-150s at the one-mile desert oval at Phoenix International Raceway Monday, ostensibly in preparation for the March 18, 2000 Chevy Trucks NASCAR 150.

But more significant than kicking off preparations for the sixth NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season were the players who were in harness in the trucks, as Roush Racing pared a "huge list" of driving talent down to five pilots who auditioned for the seat in the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford.

Phelon Motorsports is also in the process of working on a driver for its Carlin Burners & Controls Ford for 2000. Mike Stefanik drove the truck to the 1999 USG SHEETROCK Brand Rookie of the Year Award but he has not been guaranteed a seat for 2000.

The most exciting news to NCTS fans Monday was the return of Rick Carelli to the seat of a racing vehicle for the first time since he suffered serious injuries in an accident on May 8 at Memphis Motorsports Park. Carelli tested the No. 66 Ford at Phoenix while Jimmy Hensley tested with the Roland Wlodyka-led team at Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday.

Roush Racing was the center of attention at Phoenix on Monday and with good reason. Roush truck team manager Max Jones had three NASCAR Touring Division champions on hand to drive a pair of Ford F-150s under the watchful eye of 1999 NCTS championship runner-up Greg Biffle.

Roush tested Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring champ Kurt Busch; two-time Goody's Dash Series, NASCAR Touring champion Robert Huffman; 1998 Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, NASCAR Touring champion Gary Lewis; 1999 American Speed Association ACDelco Challenge Series champion Tim Sauter; and NASCAR Winston West Series front runner Brandon Ash.

Now Jones and his entourage have the difficult task of selecting a driver for the 2000 season to replace Mike Bliss, who left his contract in the Exide Ford to seek a ride in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series for 2000.

"All the guys were great and we feel like any one of them could do the job," Jones said on Tuesday from the team's shop in Livonia, Mich. "The hard part is going to be determining who was the best. We had a 12-hour day at the track, four or five guys had informal interviews with the guys, and we also did a lot of de-briefing on chassis set-ups. That'll all come into the decision process."

"It would be easy if they were spread apart in any one area, but they were all close - you could throw a blanket over 'em," Jones said, shaking his head anticipating the decision. "If you look at those guys, they're all championship caliber. We started with a huge list of candidates and they're still coming in.

"We expect whoever we put in the truck to be the rookie of the year and to contend for the top-5 in the points. Matt (Chambers) is a car chief who is capable of winning races. The driver we pick will be in the mold of the future of Roush Racing."

Jones said the pressure is on to make a selection since pre-season testing begins next month with a two-day session at Daytona International Speedway Dec. 14-15 followed by another two-day set at the "World Center of Racing" Jan. 15-16.

"We're pretty comfortable with whoever we choose," Jones said. "We almost feel like we could throw a dart at the group we have and go with whoever it hits."

Also testing at Phoenix was Rick Crawford in the No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford.