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Pedley: Roush On Roll Heading Into The 500

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 25 2012

Bob Osborne, Carl Edwards and Jack Roush are having a very good Speedweeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Speedweeks have never really been that speedy for Jack Roush. Only once has he been the Cat in the Victory Lane late in the day on Daytona 500 Sunday, and that one time happened mainly because rains ended the 2009 race early and with Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth in the lead.

Only once heading into this year’s edition of Speedweeks had Roush celebrated a 500 pole victory. And for 24 straight years, Roush was left to wonder what it felt like to win a Gatorade Duel qualifying race – as bizarre and, virtually, superfluous as those events are.

But the 2012 Speedweeks is shaping up to be a mold-braker for Roush and his Roush Fenway team. Roush driver Carl Edwards won the pole for the 500, Roush driver Greg Biffle won the other front-row starting spot and Roush driver Kenseth won the second of the two Gatorade Duels on Thursday as he passed teammate Biffle for the lead on the final lap.

Absolutely, the possibility exists that Roush’s Speedweeks will come to a unsatisfying halt in Sunday’s 500: It’s a race in which luck trumps skill. How else to explain the fact that Dale Earnhardt Sr. only won the event one time.

But while Roush – or no other team or driver – will have the luck thing covered, he will have a lot of the tangibles on his side.

Tangibles which include a wonderful stable of skilled drivers and a garage full of very fast Ford Fusions. He also appears to have a good Speedweeks plan in place.

A plan that was put to partial use during qualifying last weekend. Roush and his folks arrived at Daytona – and will head into the season after Daytona – determined to strengthen what has been a weak point for the team in the past.

Greg Biffle will start the 500 from the front row in his his RFR Ford. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Qualifying has become a bigger focus at RFR.

“One of the things that happens is the qualifying event and the race are totally different, except for an impound race,” Roush explained after his drivers swept the front row. “We’ve made an effort with Chip’s (Bolin, an RFR engineer) support and the direction that he’s had with his guys back in the shop, to be able to bring a race car to the track that was set up with known things that would be of benefit for a qualifying package.

“We started with those in our practice and dedicated time that otherwise might have been fretted away looking for that last shock absorber, that last pound of air-pressure or whatever. There’s been a focus made that start with Chip and the guys in the shop that the crew chiefs have carried forward to dedicate a certain amount of time in practice for the qualifying event.”

Edwards, who gave Ford its first Dayton 500 pole since 2007 and Roush his first 500 pole since 2004, said, “Bob (Osborne, his crew chief) and I and Jack and Chip and everyone, we’ve recognized the last couple year that qualifying is more important, that it’s harder to pass and I do get a lot of really good advice from Robbie (Reiser, RFR general manager) and Jack and Bob and all these guys about my shortcoming as a racecar driver. They’ve kind of kicked me in the butt a little bit and we’ve all agreed that we need to focus more on qualifying. I think that our success out there comes from some of that recognition that it is important and focusing on it.”

But perhaps most significantly for Roush and his prospects on Sunday is that he and engine-builder Doug Yates appear to have taken the lead in the race to master the new electronic fuel injection systems which are on all cars this year.

“It’s been like Doug Yates and Ford Motor Company have set the curve,” Roush said. “We’ve had three or four tests where we were invited to bring our fuel injection and our system worked better than everybody else’s every time we went out and today, it’s not a well-kept secret, but we had a qualifying calibration for the fuel injection and I think that some of the speed we found in our car from the practice on Saturday to what we had on Sunday here was the result of the work that Doug and the guys did in the shop and with Ford Motor Company’s support. So the fuel injection thing has been a boon for us based on our support and our partnership with Ford and the insight and the inspiration that Doug and the guys have had.”

At the post-qualifying press session, Yates sat on the dais with a big, content smile on his ever-young face.

The second-generation engine guru (his father was famed horsepower maker Robert Yates), was clearly proud of what had gone down.

“The 2007 season was a special year for us because it was my dad’s last year in racing, so to have our cars on the pole, and to finally get back here,” Yates said. “This is the goal every year to come down here and sit on the pole, but this year – with electronic fuel injection being the first time out, and new partners in the sport with Freescale and McLaren, and Ford Motor Company behind us – it’s just really special.”

There is still a race to be run. The Race. And a goofy one it always is. But those looking to handicap Sunday’s 500 might want to go with the team which has shown the most in the events leading up to it.

And that would be Roush Fenway Racing.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 25 2012
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