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Can Roush’s Luck Win Chase?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 15 2010

Jack Roush has been lucky in airplanes. He hopes it rubs off on his race teams this fall. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Those who think that success in racing goes to the lucky may want to pick Carl Edwards to win this year’s Sprint Cup championship. Or Greg Biffle. Or Matt Kenseth. Because when it comes to luck, few can come close to those three drivers’ team owner.

Jack Roush, in fact, would likely not be the owner of Roush Fenway Racing today had luck not been his co-pilot over the years: The man has simply survived more life-threatening situations than can be explained by science.

“I’ve had much more luck in terms of surviving things that could have ended my time much earlier,” Roush said this week. “I had a car wreck when I was 16 years old that could have been bad.  I was not injured.  I had a race car wreck when I was 30 that could have been bad, but was not serious.  And I’ve had two airplane crashes in the last 10 years, so I’ve had much more good fortune and many more bites of the apple here than I should have expected.”

One of those airplance crashes occurred in 2002 in Alabama. Roush was piloting a small craft which reportedly clipped a wire near a private airstrip. Roush’s plane crashed into a lake and sunk. Incredibly, watching from the shore of the lake was perhaps the one person within a thousand miles who had the training and capability to extricate and save Roush.

The latest crash occurred earlier this summer in Wisconsin. Roush was piloting his small private jet at an air show when something went horribly wrong. Roush missed the runway, bellyflopped into grass nearby and turned the plane into wreckage. A series of photos of the crash available on the internet show just how scary it was.

For some reason, the plane did not ignite even though it was virtually broken in half.

Out pops Roush – thought bleeding like crazy from facial lacerations – after safety crew arrive and get the door open.

Roush spent several weeks in hospitals but is now back at race tracks. And, is flying again.

“There was no hesitation for it,” Roush said about going back up in an airplane. “It was the Friday evening before the Atlanta race and it was in a J3 Piper Cub with a friend of mine in Atlanta.”

The guy knows he’s lucky.

As do people around him.

“Not many people walk away from one plane crash much less two,” Kenseth said this week. “Yeah, he’s lucky to still be with us, be able to walk away from all that stuff.  I can’t say I was really surprised he got back to the track as quick as he did. He loves being at the track, he loves being at the shop, being in the middle of all the business and all the decisions and stuff. I wasn’t surprised he was back as quick as he was. He has always loved racing, the business end, the competition end. That’s what he enjoys doing.”

Roush said that his brushes with death have made him more appreciative of life in general.

“For the time that I’ve got left and for the things that I’ve learned,” he said, “I intend to make the biggest contribution I can to our broader society, to the business community that I’m involved with in Detroit with Ford and the automobile industry, and, of course, the racing community and the things around NASCAR.”

Kenseth got a good laugh out of a question asked on Tuesday: Has Roushed mellowed since his last crash?

“That’s a good one,” Kenseth said. “No, not really. I think I saw a huge change in Jack when he had his first airplane accident, a huge change. That’s where I really saw him kind of mellow out and be more tolerant, do all the things you’re talking about. Since then, he’s been about the same I think. There was definitely a big change, I think, the first time he had the accident. I haven’t noticed him being that different since he’s been back, but he’s only been back a little bit. Obviously, it was a traumatic experience and he’s still recovering.”

Roush, of course, takes issue with some of that. The still recovering part.

“Physically, I’m back to 100 percent,” he said. “I did lose the use of my left eye through my facial injury, but my right eye corrects to 20/15, which is the same as it was before.  I’m driving a car.  With another pilot with me I’ve flown two airplanes since the accident and I’m on a complete, normal schedule for me with my involvement with my engineering company in Michigan and my interaction with Ford on many fronts, and, of course, with my race teams in North Carolina.

“If the question is, ‘Am I back?’  I’m back and I was really off stage for less than three weeks as I went through my surgeries.  I think I’m back up to full potential. I know I was on a treadmill for a reasonable period of time last evening, which is a Sunday evening for me if I don’t have a race.  I’m sleeping well and eating well.”

And his cars are running well.

Biffle, who has the team’s only victory this season, will start the Chase-opening race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend seventh in points, 50 behind leader Denny Hamlin.

Edwards is seeded eighth and Kenseth 11th. Both will be 60 behind Hamlin.

They will all be driving Fords which have been very fast in recent months. So fast that some are thinking that the Roush Fusions can challenge the Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, the Toyota’s of Joe Gibbs Racing and the Dodge of Penske Racing.

“I have in my office a little board and on it we cite the top-finishing Fords for the season,” Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America Motorsports, said Monday. “I’m looking at the last 12 races, which is when the FR9 (engine) came in at the first MIS, and over the last 12 races, we obviously had that one win with Biffle, but in 10 out of those 12 races we’ve had a top-five finish, and of those, four have been second-place, including a couple weeks ago with Carl at Atlanta.

“So, clearly entering the chase, like in any playoff system, you want momentum on your side.  It’s invigorating and powerful to know you have momentum on your side and if you look at who is in the chase, and look at our drivers under the leadership of Jack, we have champions that are entering the chase who have been in a similar position.”

And then there is the luck thing.

For the record, in 2002 after the first plane crash, Roush drivers finished second, third, eighth and 12th in the final standigs.

But, the year after, Kenseth gave Roush his first Cup championship.

So, if history repeats itself…

Roush, of course, hopes its doesn’t. At least not after next year.

“I’m extraordinarily grateful for the time I’ve got,” he said, “but I don’t presume that I’ve got another successful outcome to another traumatic accident like I had with my last airplane incident.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 15 2010
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