Roush: From Dog To Top Dog

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Is there any doubt now that Roush Racing has returned to its place as one of the premier organizations in all of NASCAR Racing?

Sure 2001 was a relatively down year for Roush. And sure, Roush teams had a lot to prove coming into the 2002 campaign.

Seven races into the season, however, and Roush has put itself at the forefront of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Its drivers have won three races, and that’s three more than Hendrick Motorsports, three more than Robert Yates Racing, three more than Richard Childress Racing and two more than Joe Gibbs Racing.

It still has three of its drivers in the Top 7 in the points (Matt Kenseth is second, Mark Martin is fifth and Kurt Busch is seventh). That’s one more than Hendrick, three more than Yates, three more than Childress and three more than Gibbs.

Kenseth has been the mainstay of Roush’s success in the early going this season with a pair of victories, including Monday’s Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford is also second in the points, 70 behind leader Sterling Marlin.

After two very successful seasons in the Busch Series in the late 1990s, Kenseth entered the Winston Cup Series in 2000 with a world of potential and future championship hopes. That potential appears to be coming to fruition.

“One thing I can tell you is our cars have handled much, much better than they did last year,” Kenseth said. “Last year we were driving 20th-place cars most of the time and no matter what circumstances, you put me in a 20th-place car and I’m not going to win the race in any way. So, the car has got to be fast and you’ve got to have everything going your way. Everything has gone our way this year so far.”

Martin, who finished out of the Top 10 in the Winston Cup points standings last year (12th) for the first time since 1988, has been rejuvenated. Martin hasn’t won a race since 2000, but is fifth in the points with four top-10 finishes in seven events.

“This was a great finish for us,” said Martin, a former winner at Texas. “We had a great team effort and a great car. Right now we’re just trying to build on things, but as we get into the summer, I’m pretty excited about what we’re going to be able to do.

“Matt’s a good guy and a tremendous driver. He had a tough year last year as I did and they’re bouncing back, and we are, too. I’m really happy for them.”

Second-year driver Kurt Busch is seventh in the points, and earned his first career Winston Cup victory two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Prior to the start of the season, Martin’s and Busch’s teams changed crew chiefs, and it appears to have made a huge difference. Jimmy Fennig, who was with Martin for several years, now heads up Busch’s team. Ben Leslie is Martin’s crew chief.

The transition apparently has been a smooth one.

“I was excited going into the year,” Martin said. “I don’t mess with confidence a whole lot because that’s an emotion that doesn’t really get you anything. I took a beating last year. It was a very difficult year for me.

“There were a lot of days that I went out that I knew I was going to race for 25th and I didn’t want to do that much longer. I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to dig in and turn that around. I don’t know what I’ve done to be so blessed.”

Perhaps the most intriguing member of the Roush Racing stable is Jeff Burton, who garnered the organization’s only two victories in 2001. After a 39th-place finish on Monday, Burton is 14th in the points.

“The downside of four teams is that only one of them can win, so I’m really greedy,” Roush said. “On a day like today (Monday) I’m just devastated that we didn’t have a better day with the 99 (Burton) and that Kurt (Busch) ran over three pieces of trash on the track somewhere along the way and had three flat tires that gave him trouble.

“Kurt really had a neutral car that was balanced real nice and he just kept coming down pit road, so these things will be bothering me as much or more than the joy I feel for winning this race. We’re just greatly relieved to have been able to deliver back to DEWALT (Kenseth’s sponsor) and Pfizer (Martin) and Rubbermaid (Busch) and Citgo (Burton) the kind of exposure that they counted on from us when they made their investment in sponsorship.

“For the most part, we haven’t had the broken parts and we haven’t had the wrecks and haven’t had the cautions come out at exactly the wrong time that we might have had last year.”

Indeed. The breaks have certainly fallen the Roush teams’ way, and they’ve taken their place – for now, anyway - at the head of the class in the Winston Cup Series.

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