When his four drivers at Roush Fenway Racing failed to win in the first 20 Cup races of the 2010 season—and ran up a collective winless streak of 216 races going back to February 2009—Jack Roush cautioned against writing his team off. "The point isn't to peak early in the season," the 68-year-old car owner said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this summer. "The idea is to win races when it actually matters. Timing is everything."
It certainly has been for Roush. In April 2002 Roush, a licensed pilot, was flying his twin-engine plane when he hit a power line and crashed upside down into a pond outside of Troy, Ala. A retired Marine trained in water rescue, Larry Hicks, happened to be in a house 100 yards away; he pulled Roush to safety. "Luckiest man alive," Hicks said later.
Within six weeks Roush was back flying to races. For more than eight years, he flew several times a week without incident—until July 27. That evening Roush, piloting a small jet, survived another crash landing, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. His jet broke in half, and Roush suffered permanent damage to his left eye—"It's gone," he says—as well as a compression fracture in his back, a broken jaw and lacerations on his head and face.
Yet there he was in his signature Panama hat last Friday at Michigan International Speedway, strolling down pit road. He chatted with his drivers—Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan—and later gave the thumbs-up to fans in the garage who clapped as he ambled by. "Jack being here is sending a message," said Biffle. "He's back and we're back."
The correlation between Roush's crash and his team's rise has been striking. Five days after Roush's second tumble from the sky, Biffle won at Pocono. On Sunday in the Carfax 400, which was won by Kevin Harvick, the Roush Fenway drivers again were formidable: Edwards finished third; Biffle, who led a race-high 66 laps, came in fourth; and Kenseth was fifth. Edwards (currently sixth in points), Kenseth (ninth) and Biffle (11th) all appear to be good bets to make the Chase.
"Our problems [in 2009 and earlier this season] were in the front end of the car, and we worked, worked, worked on that," says Biffle. "We finally found something before Chicago that clicked. We're now fast, man. I wouldn't trade the position I'm in for anything."
Roush expressed a similar sentiment about his team last Friday at Michigan, smiling as his Fords thundered around the speedway. He didn't say it, but he sure looked like a man having the time of his life.
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Who will be racing where in 2011? Here's a look at two developments as NASCAR's silly season gets into gear.
1. Kasey Kahne moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Red Bull Racing. Already signed to drive a Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 (when Mark Martin steps aside), Kahne (below) will pilot a Toyota as Red Bull's franchise driver for one year. Kahne won't be just marking time; the winner of 11 Cup races in his career, he should make Red Bull a front-runner.
2. Paul Menard goes from Richard Petty Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing. RCR adds a fourth car for Menard, a blossoming talent who will also bring his family sponsorship (Menards home improvement stores) to his new team.
JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (CAR)
ON THE BRIM Biffle led 66 laps at Michigan (left) and is one of three drivers Roush (below) has poised to make the Chase.
GREG NELSON (ROUSH)
[See caption above]
REY DEL RIO/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL (KAHNE)