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Third Place
Thomas Pope, Fayetteville Observer

Roush looking for a rebound

            DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”
            That’s Carl Edwards’ take on dealing with racing’s cyclical nature. Were the circumstances applicable to him and him alone, it would be one thing. But Friday’s 12-word summation of the 2009 season applies across the board for Roush Fenway Racing.
            The high points – back-to-back wins by Matt Kenseth to start the season and Jamie McMurray’s November conquest of Talladega – were overshadowed by the failure to deliver the expected goods from inside the organization and without.
            Of the five Roush drivers, only Edwards and Greg Biffle made the Chase to have a shot at the Sprint Cup title. Neither won a race, and Edwards was the preseason favorite to end Jimmie Johnson’s championship reign at three. Kenseth, McMurray and David Ragan all fell short of even that.
            “If you had told me before Daytona that I’d win the first two races last year, I’d have told you you were crazy,” Kenseth said. “But after having won the first two races, if you had told me that I wouldn’t make the Chase, I’d have said you were crazy, too.”
            That’s how baffling, and surprising, the 2009 season was for Ford’s flagship team. In 2008, Edwards won a circuit-best nine times and was the runner-up to Johnson. Two victories helped Biffle to third overall, and Roush Fenway seemed poised to dominate in ’09.
            But after Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and at California the following week, the entire organization’s performance began misfiring. Team owner Jack Roush said the shortcomings were caused by trying to deliver a haymaker to the jaw of the opposition instead of wearing it down with a five-fisted combination.
It was a far, far cry from 2005, when Roush’s quintet filled half the 10-driver Chase field.
            “We had plenty of resources,” Roush said of 2009, “but the thing that makes the difference between winners and losers is what you do with your time. We spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to find that breakthrough … and didn’t find it.
            “Other people spent time getting cars as light as they needed to be and on a number of nuances – the small things that were really less interesting to me and to the management group than finding the next breakthrough. We got best-balled on just the tweaks and the sanding.”
            But that might not be the complete diagnosis of what ailed Roush Fenway.
            Kenseth described the season in a nautical context, saying his team performed well “for the boat that we were in.”
            McMurray, whose four-year tenure ended at season’s end, was more specific. He described the organization’s size as a liability; something more like a battleship trying to make a 180-degree turn in a bathtub.
            “The hard part of having four other teammates – when we had the affiliation with (Yates Racing) it was like having seven other teammates – is that there’s so much information to go through,” said McMurray, who returned to team owner Chip Ganassi’s stable. “When they do the set-ups of the cars, you can’t take just what you want from each of those set-ups because it’s a package deal.
            “It’s overwhelming when you have that much information to look at and things aren’t going well.”
            To ensure that 2010 is a step forward, Roush has added six more engineers to his staff to make an even three dozen. He’s not given up on seeking a grand slam in terms of performance, but he also wants to strike a balance of revolutionary with what he called “contemporary knowledge.”
Edwards’ take is that the organization will be better this year for reasons that don’t require an engineer.
            Said Edwards: “The things we did last year that didn’t work? We won’t do those this year.”