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Roush is in unfamiliar role



There is no arguing that Jack Roush has built an empire in the sport of Nextel Cup racing, but lately that empire has started showing a few cracks as his stable of Fords has been forced to play catch-up with the Chevrolets. Two years ago, all five of his Cup teams made the Chase for the Championship but this season only Matt Kenseth has been able to flex any kind of muscle on race day.

Because of all of his recent success in the series including series titles with Kenseth and Kurt Busch, Roush is definitely not be the owner you would expect to be struggling with not only the present make of race car but also with the Car of Tomorrow. It was expected that his #6 team that was being vacated by Mark Martin would struggle somewhat with new driver David Ragan, but the rest of his operation which includes Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle would continue to be a force in the top 10.

There is some irony to the problems Roush is going through as he spent much of last year speaking out against Toyota’s arrival in the series this season. He thought Toyota would come in and spend whatever amount it took to become competitive during its first year. As it has turned out, the Japanese manufacturer’s only victories have come during qualifying when it was able to get a few of its teams on the starting grid.

Apparently while Roush was worrying about the threat being posed by Toyota, the rest of the powerhouse operations including Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing were working on their COT programs. According to Greg Biffle’s former crew chief Pat Tryson, Roush would not let his operation have a test team that would go to tracks not on the Cup schedule and test the new make of car.

Those teams that did test have been dominating the COT races with Hendrick Motorsports winning every race so far this season. That kind of advantage recently took on more meaning with NASCAR’s announcement that the COT will run the full schedule next season instead of the planned 26 races. Originally NASCAR had planned a threeyear phase-in program with the first full season of competing with the COT not scheduled until 2009.

Roush now realizes he is having to play catch-up in the sport and has formed a team that will just be on the road testing, with the results being shared with all of his teams. Kenseth and Edwards have already tested at Milwaukee with the new test team and this week Biffle is expected to be on the road testing.

Biffle no doubt wants to use the testing session as a springboard to turn his team’s fortunes around. His recent split with longtime Roush crew chief Pat Tryson has raised more than a few eyebrows as Tryson was highly successful in his tenure as Martin’s crew chief during his final years with Roush and has been considered one of the best on pit road.

Tryson was replaced by Chris Andrews for the 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but Greg Erwin will take over the duties of Biffle’s crew chief beginning full time this week. Erwin comes to Roush after being Robby Gordon’s crew chief for the last two years. Prior to his employment with Gordon, he spent seven years as an engineer at Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

The move continues a trend for Roush as he has been trying to center the leadership of his teams around those with an engineering background instead of just a crew chief. Biffle said he wasn’t in favor of the switch, but in order to get the kind of backing he needs from the company he needed to go along with the move.

The move comes at a time when Biffle has only a year left on his contract with Roush and is in the process of renegotiating an extension. Both he and Roush hope the change will make the team more competitive, but if things fail to turn around by season’s end, Biffle could test his worth on the open market and break his contract much the way former teammate Kurt Busch did when he left with a year still on his contract.

Race Preview – Event: Austin Speaks 400 presented by Visa. Track: Dover International Speedway (1-mile concrete oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: June 3, 1:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Matt Kenseth.

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