Ford Daytona test - Jack Roush interview

Roush Racing is coming off a season which saw three of its four NASCAR Winston Cup teams finish in the top 10, led by second-place Mark Martin and third-place Kurt Busch. The addition of Greg Biffle to the lineup this year will give car owner Jack...

Roush Racing is coming off a season which saw three of its four NASCAR Winston Cup teams finish in the top 10, led by second-place Mark Martin and third-place Kurt Busch. The addition of Greg Biffle to the lineup this year will give car owner Jack Roush five teams to keep tabs on each weekend. Roush spoke about the upcoming season during the second day of testing for next month's Daytona 500.

JACK ROUSH, Car Owner - Roush Racing Ford Tauruses:

LAST YEAR IS GOING TO BE PRETTY HARD TO TOP ISN'T IT? "When I assess the drivers that are out there in the field, I find that there are probably 10 drivers that I approve of from the way they conduct their affairs, that I respect for the way they can race, and for the business associations and practices they have I find to be desirable. Happily, I've got five of the 10. So, half of the folks that I think I would like to be involved with, that I think could win and would be an honor and a privilege for a sponsor to be involved with, are associated with Ford and Roush Racing and I feel really, really good about that.

"The question that's always behind the question that's asked is about 2002 and how it was a good year, but what about 2001, which was not such a good year? To put the whole thing in perspective what I would say is that 2001 was our 14th year, 2002 was our 15th year and 2003 is our 16th year. We've only gained over 2001 by 2/16ths of our experience as it relates to how we got ready and what our perspective was in getting ready for the new year.

"The 2001 year was an aberration. A lot of things happened that were well documented. Happily those things either didn't happen to us in 2002 or the pendulum swung in our favor so that we got more good fortune than we might have otherwise been entitled to or deserved. In 2003, I don't expect any special good luck or fortune, but Mark has renewed his confidence. Jeff Burton had a wake-up call with regard to the way 2002 was for him. He had a year in 2002 that was very much like 2001, except he won a race in 2001.

"Kurt Busch, in his third year now and fourth year in stock cars. If you say what is the essence of a Craftsman Truck, a Busch Grand National car and a Winston Cup car, it's a certain kind of chassis, suspension, weight, tire. He's only got three years behind him. Normally by the time people are in their fourth year, they're still in trucks or their reaching to try and get the bottom rung of a Busch Grand National program. Kurt, along with hopefully the other three -- I wouldn't put Greg Biffle in a scenario saying he could go and win a Winston Cup championship or could amass enough points or win enough races or have good enough performance depending on the powers that be - if they'd let it happen - I wouldn't put him under that kind of pressure, but certainly the other four are gonna be able to do that and Kurt is right in the middle. If he's not the strong horse, he's certainly up there with the others.

"I feel realistic about last year in terms of saying it was probably better than we deserved given what we came off of, but we've looked at the 15 years behind us and tried to accentuate all the positives and remember all the things that went wrong and the strategies that were flawed and be sure that we stay cognizant of those things and then make our plans to go forward."

DO YOU RUN THE RISK OF HAVING THINGS BACKFIRE ON YOU WHENEVER YOU TRY TO MAKE THINGS BETTER? "If you went for a process of revolution rather than evolution, I think that could happen. But when we're as close as we are, it's a matter of iterations. It's not 10 of something and re-writing the way you're going to do this or changing the organization dramatically. It was the coup of the decade for me to be able to change Jimmy Fennig and Ben Leslie and to keep those crews functioning as a unit together."

DID JIMMY HAVE TO TIGHTEN THE REINS WITH KURT AT FIRST? "Jimmy had to assert a parental kind of control. Two things had to happen - Jimmy had to look at what was going on and say, 'This is not right. This is counter-productive. This is not doing what we want to do' and then have the confidence and guts to go and say, 'No. Here's how.' By the same token, Kurt needed to look at Jimmy and say, 'You know, I've learned what I know from an older guy, who is my dad, and he has more experience so I should pay attention.' As opposed to looking at someone like Ben Leslie, who is closer to his own age and says, 'I'm not sure if he's sure. I've never worked with anyone as young as him.' Kurt's deal was the worst deal he ever saw for a while because it was almost the only deal he ever saw. When he came to us in the truck program, he had probably raced in about 90 significant competitive events in four-wheel, full-sized, more than 1500-pound vehicles and won 70 percent of those races. They never put him in a car that wasn't competitive or had a huge problem or a bunch of mechanical issues. When you get close to the edge of the envelope and some things fall off, it was awful. But Kurt has matured and Jimmy has helped with that. Jimmy is as renewed as Mark Martin and is a crew chief on a tear. Ben Leslie is getting his legs under him with somebody who can help and challenge him and respects him. So life is good. It doesn't get any better."

IS KURT READY TO BE ONE OF THE TOP THREE GUYS IN THIS SERIES? "Well, he won three of the last five races last season. He's as good as anybody in this business has ever been, certainly given the present set of regulatory and technical circumstances. He's as good as anybody there's ever been. If he stays healthy and if I can do my part of keeping the team working efficiently with competitive cars and competitive engineering and competitive pit stops, if I can make all of that work, he's gonna be faster in every race from now on. The only bad race he had last year, the place that was really driving him crazy, was Martinsville and he won the second race there. Kurt has proven the confidence that Max Jones and the guys put in him. He has proven the confidence that I had in him when I carried him to town here and were looking how to get that program going. He has done everything you could expect him to do. With a 19-year-old, a 16-year-old, a 20-year-old - in this environment - there are going to be issues of maturity and understanding based on the way a person is in that timeframe. Everything is a challenge and there isn't a proper amount of respect for how hard things are or that other people could really care as much. He's got all that passion and when that passion runs into frustration, it can get wild."

YOU HAVE A GOOD MIX OF VETERANS AND NEWCOMERS AND KIDS LIKE KYLE BUSCH WAITING IN THE WINGS. YOU MUST FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION RIGHT NOW. "From a manpower point of view, if I can make my hardware work and if I can stop from being raided by teams that come after our people, I think we'll be competitive. The 17 team had been such a great team. When we came back (from holiday break) two different teams came back and took both tire changers by making offers that they thought they couldn't refuse. They're young people and have their own ambitions. They had been to the Robbie Reiser, Dewalt and Roush Racing Development University and now they were ready to go graduate and get something that was gonna be easier for them. Undoubtedly, they got sweetheart deals that were beyond reason based on what their diploma said and the training that they've had, but that's part of this business."

WITH THE DIVERSITY IN THE AGES OF YOUR DRIVERS, WAS THAT INTENTIONAL OR DID IT JUST HAPPEN THAT WAY? "It's ideal, but it wasn't intentional. I guess it was in the sense that when we made a relationship with Mark and Jeff, we made those business and personal relationships endure based on trying to work together. We have win-win deals in all of the arrangements.

"At the same time we recognized that we needed to be able to renew ourselves and create scenarios where sponsors could go from one driver if they ever got hurt or that driver decided he wanted to spend the last 10 years of his 30-50 age range finishing up with his kids like Darrell Waltrip did when he started his family. If someone decided they wanted to do that, then we felt we needed to be ready to go. The idea of breaking out the big checkbook and going after some other team or some other sponsor and taking their driver to make your program work was not on my mind. I grew up in this business - not the stock car business but the racing business - and I developed thousands of careers for young people. We won the 24 Hours of Daytona 10 times and every year but one or two we had at least one rookie driver that had never been there before, and we won the race. In our Trans Am Racing and GTO Racing championship effort for 14 years, we almost always had one seasoned driver and one or two rookies. We found the young ones learned from the experienced ones and the old ones take energy from and are challenged by and kept sharp by the enthusiasm of the young ones."

WHAT ABOUT JEFF BURTON THIS YEAR? "I think this could be his year. We made a crew chief change and got Paul Andrews on board. He's a guy I have great respect for and he's respected by virtually everybody in this business because of the kind of guy he is and the way he runs his program. I think Paul will be able to settle Jeff down some and get him better cars than he's had recently. I think the team chemistry is going to improve and the fact is that Jeff went immediately to qualifying better. If you look at his average qualifying position over the first part of the year and then what it was after Paul came on board, Paul had the knowledge and the experience to help him qualify better. Even though they weren't able to win a race at the end of the season, they certainly were a factor in many races. If I had to look and say, 'Which guys are going to reign supreme next year?' It's awful hard for me not to pick Kurt. It's awful hard for me not to pick Matt. It's awful hard for me not to pick Mark and it's awful hard for me not to pick Jeff. I look at them and I can start with either one and it's not wrong. Greg Biffle is a young man in a hurry with crew chief Randy Goss and I hope they can get their legs under them and win the rookie title this year, win a race and get a pole. And then they can get organized to do some serious big-time business in 2004."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Darrell Waltrip , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jack Roush , Max Jones , Mark Martin