This Week in Ford Racing - Geoff Smith

This Week in Ford Racing May 14, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup GEOFF SMITH, President -- Roush Racing CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON JACK? "Jack is doing very well. He went home last week. He's been commuting from home to the office in Livonia...

This Week in Ford Racing
May 14, 2002

NASCAR Winston Cup

GEOFF SMITH, President -- Roush Racing

CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON JACK? "Jack is doing very well. He went home last week. He's been commuting from home to the office in Livonia (Mich.), which is a few miles from his home. He works part of the time and he rehabilitates part of the time, so he's fully back into it. He's just got a few more weeks of healing to do before he's completely mobile, but we expect to see him within the next week down here in North Carolina."

ROUSH RACING HAS FOUR CARS IN THE WINSTON, SO YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD SHOT. "We like the odds that come numerically and, of course, we've got a group of drivers and teams that are very full of confidence right now. They've run so well all year and, of course, four of them in the top 10 in points has the organization feeling very good about its chemistry at all levels."

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE LAST MONTH FOR ROUSH RACING? "I would say it's been a month of focus and commitment. While our personal emotions went to a very low level then soared back up to a very high level quickly, the race team managers and drivers and crew chiefs wanted to demonstrate the type of organizational structure we had by going out and doing well -- meaning it shows how much our program is run by the managers that Jack has empowered. So, they got an opportunity in a way to show themselves as the core strength of the company and Jack has built the company that way. In some ways when you have a very strong owner in terms of imagery and who is very involved, at the same time it shows that his involvement isn't such that it impacts the ability of the managers and drivers and fabricators and engine builders to do their job."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT KURT'S PROGRESS AND HOW MUCH JIMMY HAS HAD AN IMPACT? "Kurt has made unbelievable progress since the day we first tested him in our Gong Show for the truck series. He's so young and he was put into a situation last year in Winston Cup that, while we knew he had the talent, surviving the emotional rollercoaster of the all the new chemistry, new cars, new situations was certainly a challenge for him. He had his ups and downs with that, but what we did see last year was that when things worked right, he was very fast, he found his way to the front, he made good decisions and he was contributing to the improvement of our cars and our team as a whole. When I say that I'm saying that Mark Martin and Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth also looked to Kurt on occasion on how to make their cars go better, so we knew last year that we were on the right path, notwithstanding that a young man was being sorely tested in terms of the psychological challenge that was going on with the ups and downs. This year is actually going the way we expect Kurt Busch to run. It's how he expects to run, it's how Jimmy Fennig expects him to run and it's how his whole crew expects. We think he's remarkably talented and is at the same level as the other guys, so we think we've got four guys that can do the job every week. The change in chemistry, I think, was a really good move for both Mark Martin and for Kurt Busch. Both drivers equally brag about how good the change was for them. In Kurt's case, I think from maybe an emotional support level, he got a much more veteran crew chief. If I understand, Kurt's crew chief in all of his prior experience, was his dad, so I think a more veteran personality also put a little more stability and confidence into Kurt."

WHAT DOES ROUSH RACING LOOK FOR WHEN THEY'RE LOOKING FOR A DRIVER? "For example, when we start out with a brand-new driver like we did with Kurt Busch, we conduct a series of tests at two different kinds of race tracks -- a short-track and a high-speed track. The first part we look for is we put them in a vehicle that we've set up and we know what the handling characteristics are and we see how fast can he go and how consistently can he maintain that speed. Then we start to get into the real important parts because there are quite a few drivers that can put their foot down on the gas and leave it there, but that doesn't mean they know what's going on with the car and what changes need to be made in the course of the race. So we try to determine what the driver's understanding is of what's going on with the car and how well he can communicate them. So we give all these driver candidates opportunities to demonstrate to us that they know what's going on with the car and that they can communicate what's going on with the car so we're not just relying on the ability of the crew chief to be the sole input as to what changes go on. So, both of those are critical at both the high-speed and short-track. Then we get into what their background is. Does this person come from a family background that has the kind of work ethic and commitment that we think will fit in with the chemistry and character of our organization as a whole? Or is it going to be someone that has a personality that we don't think can channel constructively? It's not that much different than when baseball and football scouts start looking at their talent. They say that there are a lot of people with a certain level of talent, but are they coachable enough to fit into their enterprise, where we can maximize their potential."

DO YOU LOOK AT HOW THE DRIVERS WOULD DEAL WITH SPONSORS AND MEDIA? "We do sign off on what we think their personality is, but I will tell you that we can work on training and developing that piece a lot easier than we can work on whether or not they can go fast in a race car. So, unless they've got something that is really negative about their personality, it's an issue for us but it's not the primary issue. Then we get guys -- we've been fortunate enough over a period of time -- we've got the complete package with Mark Martin and Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth, and you heard Kurt Busch in his second year, who is probably the most polished second-year guy. A lot of the drivers get their polish from the fact that they spend three or four years in the Busch Series practicing, but there aren't that many natural marketing personalities that start right of the box like Kurt Busch."

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A DECISION ON A YOUNG DRIVER? "In Kurt's case, his talent showed up immediately. On the first test, his talent showed up comparable and on the second test he started to really get into it and it showed up as superior. We made a decision, I think immediately following the second test that he was the guy we wanted and we acted on it immediately. We invest in these young drivers with the view that we're literally going to spend literally millions of dollars before we can get a return on our investment. So we act quickly. We get them signed up and get them in the program. The sooner they acclimate to the organization and fit in, the sooner we can get the results."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Mark Martin