Jack Roush sighed. Sitting in the Homestead-Miami Speedway Media Center, conducting a post-victory interview session with race winner Carl Edwards and crew chief Bob Edwards was a mixed blessing for Roush.
On the one hand, to see Edwards end the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with consecutive victories in his No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford, to see the team win three of 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and to see RFR drivers Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finish fourth through sixth in points were all items that gave Roush great satisfaction and personal pride after a difficult start to the 2010 season. And that was especially true given that Roush somehow had cheated death yet again, surviving a second airplane crash, this one during an experimental aircraft show at Oshkosh, Wis., in July.
Through it all, though, Roush – and every other team owner, driver and crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage — watched helplessly as Jimmie Johnson scored his record fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, a mark that for the first 60 years of NASCAR history wasn't so much unreachable as it was unfathomable.
Roush, a man who's seen enough go wrong in his long career to be cautious to the point of being pessimistic, had another reason to fret about the team's 2011 prospects: Despite the fact that the current generation NASCAR Sprint Cup cars look very similar year to year, under the skin, technological evolution occurs at a breakneck pace. And what a team accomplishes one year means jack the next. No one knows that better than Jack.
So while he was excited about how 2010 ended, 2011 is very much an open question.
“Last year as we made our plans for 2010, we dared to be great as it related to our simulations and we didn't get it done right – and that put us behind this year for six months before we got it fixed and then got the confidence in it,” says Roush. “But we have got to tear up as all of the teams do over the winter this year to try to make things better, otherwise we'll get left behind.”
If you don't believe it, just take a look at Roush's arch-rival, Hendrick Motorsports. In 2009, Hendrick drivers swept the top three positions in the Sprint Cup point standings. As a team, they posted 13 victories, 48 top-five and 75 top-10 finishes. Yes, Johnson, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, won another championship in 2010, but the team's overall numbers were way down: six victories – all by Johnson – 38 top fives and 59 top 10s. The reason? They fell behind technologically after NASCAR switched from a rear wing to a rear spoiler after the first five races of the season.
“We built cars and built some of our packages around that wing and when we went to spoiler we were behind, we were all behind,” says team owner Rick Hendrick. “None of the cars ran like they should. You don't want to give up on something new that you've got. You try to keep running it and finally you have to back up to what you had maybe six or eight months ago. Then you're way behind.”