Monday, February 16, 2009
Roush not satisfied with Daytona win
By David Newton
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The eggs and sausage-gravy biscuits had barely been touched, and the potatoes so heavy with cheese were barely cool enough eat when the host of the Daytona 500 champion's breakfast chimed in.
"If anybody has questions for Drew, let's ask them now so he and his crew can be excused," he said Monday morning.
He was talking about Drew Blickensderfer, the crew chief for now-reigning Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth.
Before you ask, that's pronounced BLICK-ins-durr-fur.
One question later: Poof! The man with the long name and about a dozen crewmen were out the door faster than NASCAR called Sunday night's race for rain on Lap 152 of the scheduled 200-lap event.
That says all you need to know about the crew chief charged with getting Kenseth back to Victory Lane and back to championship form. One race into his career in the Sprint Cup Series, Blickensderfer was more worried about returning to the shop in Concord, N.C., to make sure the California car was properly loaded for a cross-country trip than analyzing the win.
That also tells you all you need to know about the mentality at Roush Fenway Racing. They are racers in the purest form. As long as there is another event to prepare for, there is little to no time to celebrate.
They get this mentality from co-owner Jack Roush. Nobody works harder than the man known as the "Cat in the Hat" because of his trademark fedora. But the 66-year-old with a mathematics degree doesn't live by the "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" philosophy anymore.
He actually has a sense of humor, one that came out several times since adding the biggest missing link to his impressive racing résumé.
"I don't know if Drew deserves this," Roush said with a smile shortly after the victory. "I had to wait 20 years, and this is Drew's first race as a crew chief."
Roush reminded us Monday that he said that in jest. Later, when Kenseth was addressing the question of why he flew home to Charlotte in the wee hours knowing he had to be back in Daytona Beach for this 8 a.m. event, Roush interjected, "I think he was out of underwear."
As Kenseth talked of all the congratulatory text messages he'd received, including one from former teammate Mark Martin, Roush interrupted again.
"I heard from Mark by texting as well last night," he said.
Quipped Kenseth, whose sense of humor often is considered drier than Roush's, "You can text, too?"
Said Roush, playing the straight man by now, "I can say 'yes' or 'no' or 'thanks.' The one-liners. All you have to do is push the button. I can do that."
Most in the room chuckled. Roush got a kick out of his line as well.
But when it comes to building the best organization in the garage, he doesn't joke around. He takes it personally when one of his many experiments doesn't work the way it was intended.
That brings us back to Blickensderfer and Kenseth.
Following the 2006 season, Roush broke up Kenseth and longtime crew chief Robbie Reiser to reassign him to a general manager's role. He believed, and correctly so, that Reiser's expertise at building great race cars would better benefit the entire organization in that capacity.
He replaced Reiser with Chip Bolin, a longtime engineer on Kenseth's team. Kenseth encouraged the move as well, believing the relationship he already had with Bolin would make for a smooth transition.
What Roush didn't do was replace Bolin's position. The team suffered. The 2003 Cup champion went winless for the first time since 2001, also the last time he finished outside the top 10 -- he was 11th -- in points.
He had become almost like the fifth wheel at Roush Fenway. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle had become the headliners, with up-and-coming David Ragan and, to a degree, Jamie McMurray getting more attention.
That ate at Roush, so he returned Bolin to the role in which he felt more comfortable and brought in Blickensderfer.
"When we looked at the 17 team last year, I didn't have all the complementary skill sets that were necessary to put it back into championship form," Roush said. "I created that hole by being responsible for the advancement of Robbie Reiser.
"I was slow to figure out what we lacked and to figure out how to help Chip and help everybody on the team come together and do the best they could with getting their cars ready. Responsibility of all that is mine. I didn't do that well last year."
Roush can stop beating himself up now. Turning to Blickensderfer was the right move, although Daytona is such a crapshoot nobody will know exactly what they have until after the next two races at California and Las Vegas.
Blickensderfer gave Kenseth a car good enough to win the Daytona 500, even though Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing was dominant before a Lap 124 melee caused by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers took him and nine others out.
And while the win came as somewhat of a surprise to Roush -- who had just finished voicing to NASCAR officials his displeasure over the way that wreck transpired when the race was called -- what Blickensderfer brought to the team did not.
It was Blickensderfer who helped end Edwards' 36-race winless streak in the Nationwide Series last season. After he moved from a part-time role on Kenseth's Nationwide car, Edwards won seven of the final 19 races and came within 21 points of overtaking Clint Bowyer for his second straight title. He was 225 back before the change.
Blickensderfer wants to capture that same momentum for Kenseth. That's why he was in such a hurry to leave Monday, the first time most in the room could remember the crew chief and crew being excused early.
His driver could handle the interview and trip to New York for appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" and "Live with Regis and Kelly."
He was needed at the shop.
"Drew is a winner," Kenseth said a week before the 500. "He hasn't done the Cup deal before, but he's been around the sport for a long time. He's just a real racer. He's going to add some spark and enthusiasm to the team."
But the real spark comes from Roush, who is focused on stealing the spotlight that Hendrick Motorsports has owned the past three seasons with Jimmie Johnson.
Just because he finally won the Daytona 500 doesn't mean his résumé is complete. Like Blickensderfer and his crew, he has more work to do.
"I've won more championships than I can count in every series that I've been in," Roush said. "We've got 340 victories or something. I don't know how big the number will be, but I'll be chasing it as long as I live."
But he won't have to chase that elusive Daytona 500 anymore. Kenseth and Blickensderfer, with an assist from Mother Nature, took care of that.
|Finally, Jack Roush hoisted the owner's trophy in Victory Lane at the Daytona 500.|
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.