Owner Jack Roush's plane crash sent a shock through his resurgent
Jack Roush had every reason to expect his 60th birthday to be one
of his happiest. After a miserable 2001 season in which the four
Winston Cup cars he owns won just twice and none of his drivers
finished higher than 10th in the points standings, his stable was
on a roll. Matt Kenseth had won two of the season's first nine
races, and all four Roush drivers were in the top 11 in the
Late last Friday afternoon Kenseth was the final driver to
qualify for the Aaron's 499 at Talladega, putting his Ford on the
grid in the 37th spot. Barely an hour later, approximately 100
miles away, Roush was celebrating his birthday by flying an
experimental light plane near Troy, Ala., when the aircraft hit a
power line and crashed upside down in a pond. Roush was pulled
from the plane by a retired Marine with search and rescue
experience who lived near the crash site and who resuscitated him
before paramedics arrived. As of Monday afternoon Roush was in
serious condition at the University of Alabama- Birmingham
It was a shocking blow to an organization that was finally
beginning to gel. In the off-season Roush had shaken up his
teams, removing crew chief Jimmy Fennig from Mark Martin's car
because he felt that Martin and Fennig, who had been together for
more than five years, had become too set in their ways. Roush
also thought that having a young driver, Kurt Busch, 23, working
with a young crew chief, Ben Leslie, 29, was a bad idea, so he
put Fennig on Busch's car and Leslie on Martin's--a move that
immediately paid off. Martin, who finished 12th in the 2001
standings (his worst finish in 13 years), is currently ninth.
Busch, who was 27th as a rookie last year, is fourth.
Roush largely left the other two cars, driven by Jeff Burton and
Kenseth, alone. Burton, who finished 10th last year, has remained
steady, standing 11th after Talladega. Kenseth, meanwhile, has
transformed himself from a sophomore flop into a title contender.
The Wisconsin native beat out Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Rookie of
the Year honors in 2000, then failed to finish better than fourth
in a race in 2001. This year, though, the 30-year-old has four
top five finishes, including wins at Rockingham and Texas, and is
second in points, 109 behind series leader Sterling Marlin.
"There isn't one magic thing," says Kenseth. "We've improved a
little bit in a lot of areas, and that's turned into a pretty
One of the most significant gains has been in engine performance.
The Roush operation struggled to find horsepower last year, but
this year it has gotten help from an unlikely source: NASCAR. In
an effort to control expenditures, the sanctioning body
instituted a rule requiring teams to use the same engine in
qualifying as in a race, placing a premium on durability--a
hallmark of Roush's teams.
But last Friday's crash makes Kenseth's already unclear future
murkier. (The highly coveted Kenseth was rumored to be on the
move after last season, and his contract runs out after this
season.) At least Roush, who has never won a Winston Cup
championship, has delegated more responsibility to the crew
chiefs, so daily operations shouldn't be slowed in the short run
by his absence. "He lets us go do our deal," says Robbie Reiser,
Kenseth's crew chief. "His aim is to give us the money and the
equipment to win races, and he does that." For now Team Roush
will be racing with extra incentive, and heavy hearts.
NFL Rivalry NASCAR-bound?
One of the tastiest rumors making its way through the garage at
Talladega over the weekend had Tony Stewart being recruited by
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to drive for a two-car operation
that would be run by Jones and Andy Petree, who owns the two cars
currently driven by Bobby Hamilton and Mike Wallace. The beauty
of such a raid is that Stewart drives for Joe Gibbs, who won
three Super Bowls coaching the Washington Redskins.
Alas, the chances that the bitter NFC East rivalry will spill
over into NASCAR immediately are remote. Stewart and Gibbs were
quick to put the kibosh on the rumor, and Jones and Petree, who
have acknowledged that they are discussing the formation of a
racing team, had no comment.
Iverson's Truck Buddy
A Former Hoya Is Burning Rubber
Brendan Gaughan is the only stock car driver who can say that
back in the day he regularly smacked around Allen Iverson on the
basketball court. Gaughan may not look the part, but the 5'9",
self-described "pretty slow" Craftsman Truck Series driver played
on Georgetown's hoops team with Iverson from 1994 to '96.
Gaughan developed his toughness while growing up in Las Vegas
with two older brothers. "We used to play catch with a football
in the backyard," he says. "If you caught the ball, they'd knock
you on your ass. If you dropped it, they'd knock you on your ass
and then kick you." Gaughan was a good enough wide receiver to be
recruited to play football for Georgetown, but a hip injury
limited him to placekicking duties for the Division I-AA Hoyas.
(In two seasons he made 9 of 22 field goals and 29 of 40 extra
When basketball coach John Thompson--a friend of Gaughan's father,
Michael, who owns four casinos in Vegas, including the
Orleans--needed a player who would do some dirty work in practice
but not worry about getting in games, he asked the scrappy
Gaughan, then a sophomore, to join the team. One of Gaughan's
duties was hounding Iverson. "Coach would say, 'Dog the crap out
of Allen today,' and it was my job to pull on his jersey, punch
him, smack him, do whatever I could do to slow him down," says
Gaughan. "On the court he hated me. Off the court we became great
After Gaughan graduated in 1997 with a BSBA in human resource
management, he decided to give racing a try. His father had
driven in the Baja 1000 for over 20 years, and Brendan had raced
off-road with him once. Brendan drove in one truck race near the
end of the '97 season and then ran for three seasons on the
Winston West minor league circuit before joining the truck series
full time this year with the Orleans Racing team. His first three
races were at tracks he had never driven before, and he courted
disaster at each. He was caught up in a wreck at Daytona, had an
air gun break at Darlington and almost didn't qualify for the
April 14 event in Martinsville. But Gaughan went on to finish
13th, 20th and ninth in those events, and he is currently in 12th
place in points, with 365, 116 behind leader Robert Pressley.
With 19 races remaining, Gaughan is a bona fide threat for the
points title. "We now have all of our equipment built," he says.
"On Jan. 3 there were zero trucks in the Orleans Racing shop. Now
we have seven Dodge Rams completed, so we can afford to go to
tracks and beat the crap out of a truck, like we did at
Martinsville. We weathered what could have been a nasty storm,
and now we're ready to go and try to kick some butt." As Iverson
can attest, that's something Gaughan has some practice at.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD J. VAN EMST/MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER/AP (PLANE) Less than 48 hours after the crash Kenseth finished 30th at Talladega.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID WALBERG (2) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL KIZZLE/AP (ROUSH) Roush had to be rescued from his submerged plane, which was later transported to a nearby hangar.
COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (GAUGHAN) Hoopster turned racer Gaughan doesn't hide his Hoya pride.