Is this the year for Roush Fenway?
Most team owners talk in generalities about why they did or didn't do well.
Jack Roush isn't most team owners. He's not going to dumb it down for you. If you ask him a specific question, he's going to give you a specific answer. Maybe a little more specific than you bargained for when you asked it.
So if you ask Roush why Roush Fenway Racing was a little off its game last season and why it didn't seriously compete for the Cup title, be prepared to stay a while.
And take notes. You'll need them to have any chance of understanding what his brilliant mathematician mind is trying to tell you.
Before going into Roush's elaborate explanation of where they were compared to where they are, let me give you the plain English, simplified version:
For many reasons, RFR wasn't ready to compete with the top teams at the start of 2010. RFR, however, is more than ready to do so in 2011.
Now here are the details. So Jack, what's the answer?
"Technically, 2010 was a challenge at first getting started," Roush said during the media tour stop at his airplane hangar in Concord, N.C., last month. "The effort we made over the winter with our computer algorithms to support our simulations did not work out. They didn't correlate with real-time, actual impact of changes to the race track."
Um, OK, if you say so.
"We figured that out early on," Roush said. "By Bristol [in March] we knew we were in trouble. The changes we made over the winter through our third-party vendors didn't correlate and that relegated the crew chiefs and drivers to make single variable changes to be able to evaluate. Is it the wedge, is it the camber, is it the nose weight, is it the sway bar front or rear?"
Yeah, gotcha, I think.
"By midyear, we had that sorted out," Roush said. "We got back on track. We had gone back and corrected some of the algorithm problems, the coordination of the tire data with the racetrack ride data, and we had those things sorted out. But we still had the problem of establishing correlation to where the guys would trust it."
When they started trusting it toward the end of the season, things went well. RFR finished fourth (Carl Edwards), fifth (Matt Kenseth) and sixth (Greg Biffle) in the Chase, the only team with three drivers in the top 10. Edwards was the hottest driver on the track at the end, winning the final two races.
"We're set now to have one of our best seasons for Roush -- for all of the Roush teams -- including ours," Edwards said. "I can't say what's going to happen, but I do think we are stronger than we were before."
Edwards' finish in 2010 has led to some reporters to pick him as the driver most likely to end Jimmie Johnson's five-year run at the top.
But Edwards has been in this spot before. He was the preseason pick to win the title in 2009 after a strong finish in 2008, when he won three of the last four races and finished second in the standings. Edwards was winless in 2009.
"At the end of 2008 we had dominated a number of races," Edwards said. "Our cars were spectacular. But people had caught up with us and I knew our momentum was waning heading into 2009.
"Now, finishing the  season the way we did, our engines were better. That's something you can't beat. The engineering was better and the setups were better. Bob [Osborne, the crew chief] and I were working together better and the pit crew was better. We had legitimate reasons we were running better, so I feel better going into this season than I did in 2009."
But Edwards can live without any lofty predictions.
"That doesn't mean anything now because of what happened to me in 2009," Edwards said. "So I stand firm. Don't pick me for a darn thing. We'll just go out and race and see how it comes out."
Biffle feels the same way, but you can't mistake his optimism about his chances in 2011.
That doesn't mean anything now because of what happened to me in 2009. So I stand firm. Don't pick me for a darn thing. We'll just go out and race and see how it comes out.” -- Carl Edwards
"I feel I have every single one of the things it will take to win the title this year," Biffle said. "I feel as good about this year as I did about 2005."
Biffle fell just 35 points short of the 2005 title, which Tony Stewart won. Biffle won six races that year and thinks he can come close to equaling that feat this season.
"We got our program really going good last year," Biffle said. "With us executing better and the way our cars are running now, I really think we can win four races.
"And I felt that way in '05. We felt we had everyone by the you-know-whats and I feel that way now. The big fear is Carl and Matt. They have the same stuff. I have some tough competition within my organization."
The only RFR driver who doesn't have championship hopes this season is David Ragan. He finished 24th in the standings and didn't have a top-5 finish. Ragan knows he probably needs to show major improvement to keep his seat in the No. 6 Ford.
"I feel like the spotlight is on the 6 car," Ragan said. "We're in the 11th hour, so to speak. We've got to win a race and we've got to get the job done.
"Our cars are better today than they've been in two years. We're realistic. We are not going to go out and win 10 races and the championship. But we can win a couple and finish in the top 15 in points."
From top to bottom everyone within the Roush empire believes 2011 will be a banner year and a return to championship contention, especially genius Jack, who has all those algorithms in the right place now.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
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