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Engineering a Turnaround
If he wasn't always decked out in his trademark seagrass fedora, it would be easy to miss Jack Roush when he's nosing around the Cup garage. Frequently carrying a clipboard and a stopwatch, he looks like nothing so much as an engineer, a numbers cruncher obsessed with recording and analyzing every tiny detail ... which is, in fact, exactly what he is.
It can't be much of a surprise that Roush's team -- now Roush Fenway Racing -- has returned to the upper echelons of Cup racing. Behind driver Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway has won the last two races, and has two drivers in the top 12 of the points standings. The difference, as my colleague Lars Anderson makes clear in the pages of this week's SI, is that the Roush Car of Tomorrow program has caught up to the operations at Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
I sat down with Roush early last season, when it was becoming clear that he had not paid the proper attention to the CoT entering the 2007 campaign -- the five-car Roush Fenway team failed to compete in any of the first nine CoT races last year. He acknowledged his team's slow start, but he vowed that his goal was to catch up to the other outfits before the season was over. To that end, he put together an eight-man test team that traveled the country collecting data that Roush then poured back into his cars. And while Roush wasn't able to contend for a championship, his team's progress was pronounced, with Edwards winning in the CoT at Bristol last August,and then a month later at Dover.
The difference this season with the "Car of Today" has been immediately apparent. On his two-race win streak, Edwards-despite the 100-point penalty he received this week-has been dominant, and looks to have a chance for a third straight victory this week at Atlanta (one of his favorite tracks). And Roush Fenway's other top drivers have also been strong. Greg Biffle (6th in the standings) hasn't finished outside of the top 15 this season, and Matt Kenseth (16th) has had one top-five finish.
It's beginning to look a lot like Roush and his team will be a major player this season. Forget the ascension of Toyota. The real story of 2008 so far is the re-ascension of NASCAR's most powerful number cruncher.
How to Drive ...
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Elliott Sadler talks about racing at Atlanta:
"This track is the fastest one on the circuit -- hands down. You spend so much time in the corners because of how they have it laid out. The turns are so long, it seems like you spend most of your day running through those 24-degree high banks just to go straight for a short period of time. Personally, I like that high line around the track and it works for me. [This track is so similar to Las Vegas that] if you had a good day in Vegas, you look forward to repeating it at Atlanta. The longer our car ran under green [last week], the better we got towards the end. You can look for some side-by-side racing as guys will pick up speed and others drop off throughout the race. The tires for Las Vegas were very hard and didn't wear too much. I hope that won't be the case this weekend."
1: Number of times in six full Cup seasons that Jimmie Johnson has been lower than 14th-place in the point standings-his current position.
2: Number of wins, in seven races at Atlanta, for Carl Edwards, who has won two of the first three races of 2008.
8.7: Average finish at Atlanta for Edwards, the best of any driver in the top 12 of the points standings.
7: Number of poles at Atlanta, in 12 starts, for Ryan Newman.
Pro Rasslin' Meter
It was another quiet week for the ol' meter. So ... how about that Brett Favre, huh? Pretty wild. What do you think of Aaron Rodgers?
No, this isn't Kurt Busch's pit crew. Rather, the Blue Man Group offers a unique Las Vegas welcome to NASCAR drivers and teams before last Sunday's UAW-Dodge 400.
March 30, 1969: Cale Yarborough leads a record 308 laps en route to his third straight victory in the Atlanta 500. He would go on to win the spring race at AMS three more times in the next 14 years.