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Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Roush ready to make 2010 a big year

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Jack Roush needed only one thing to figure out what went wrong with his Sprint Cup organization in 2009.

A mirror.

The co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing says he spent too much time looking for the next innovative breakthrough, and not enough time looking for ways to lighten the cars for better handling and speed, as many of his competitors did.

"We got best-balled on the tweaks and the sanding," Roush said.

The man known as "The Cat In The Hat" for his signature fedora is confident that won't happen again. First, he noted, Ford increased its engineering staff from 30 to 36 to make up for "my ineptitude."

Roush also made tweaks in personnel and the way the cars are prepared that he believes will improve performance.

"I've learned from 2009, when I thought it was going to be a slam dunk to come back and dominate the mile-and-a-half tracks and to be a contender for a championship again," he said. "We just missed it."

Badly.

Carl Edwards, the 2009 preseason pick by many to dethrone Jimmie Johnson, went from a series-high nine wins to none. Greg Biffle went from third in points to seventh and failed to win a race for the first time since he began running full time in 2003.

Matt Kenseth opened with wins at Daytona and California, and then failed to make the Chase for the first time since it was implemented in 2004. David Ragan fell from 13th in points to 27th.

"Hearing Jack say we've got these engineers coming and we're putting all this effort into these things that we need to work on … that gets me excited," Edwards said.

Jamie Allison, the new director of Ford North America Motorsports, shares Edwards' enthusiasm.

"I can tell you the hallmark of greatness isn't what happens when you're riding high; the hallmark of greatness is what do you do when the chips are down," he said.

The simple answer is to work hard, and Roush has done that twofold.

"The thing that winds up making the difference between winners and losers in a given year -- as seen by me -- is what you do with your time, wrecks and broken parts notwithstanding," Roush said.

Outside of Hendrick Motorsports, no organization has had more success over the past decade than Roush. The organization finished second and third in the standings in 2002, and won the title in 2003 with Kenseth and 2004 with Kurt Busch.

In 2005, Roush put a record five cars in the Chase, and finished second, third and fourth in points. In 2006, Kenseth finished second. In 2008, Edwards and Biffle finished second and third.

So you can see how not having a driver finish higher than seventh and finishing with the fewest wins (three) since 2001 might frustrate Roush.

Last season also was frustrating for Edwards. He fell from the spotlight similar to the way he did in 2006 when he failed to make the Chase after finishing third the previous season.

"This sport is very, very tough ," Edwards said after dropping from 27 top-10s in 2008 to 14 in 2009. "It's reality for everybody but Jimmie."

Edwards was referring to four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has established a level of consistency no team has matched.

"Last year, we came in with the same expectation that a lot of you guys had of our performance," Edwards said. "We thought we were gonna win 10 races, win the championship, it's gonna be great, and then we didn't. Everyone on our team, myself, everyone has to be able to look at ourselves and say, 'What can we do to be better?'

"2009 is over; it's done. Now we've got to go be champions in 2010."

Kenseth is taking the same approach. Despite winning the Daytona 500, last season was the toughest of his career. There were times he came to the track knowing he couldn't compete for wins or even top-10s because the cars weren't good enough.

"We've made a lot of upgrades on our cars, but the bottom line is we've got to do it on the track," Kenseth said. "We've got to get back into championship form."

Ragan's formula for this season is simple.

"We've got to win races," he said.

His crew chief, Donnie Wingo, is one of several changes to Ragan's team. He inherited several members of the No. 26 team of Jamie McMurray that was dissolved to get Roush to NASCAR's four-car cap.

"Last year was a disappointment, and we just could not get on a roll," Ragan said. "We could not make good things happen, so we went to work and we've changed some things on our race cars and the procedures that we do at the race shop and at the race track, so we're very optimistic."

And driven, none more than Roush to atone for his mistakes.

"I couldn't be more excited," he said. "We will win more races given the same amount of opportunities than we won last year. But in the meantime, we're going to try to get ourselves ready and think that we're gonna be ready to go take a bunch of them, hands down."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.