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Roush owns half of the Chase field

9/11/2005

RICHMOND, Va. -- It took Jack Roush 16 years to win a
championship in NASCAR's top stock car series. Now, it looks like
he might be a shoo-in to win a third straight title.

A 1-2-3 Roush Racing finish Saturday night in the Chevy Rock &
Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway assured the team owner
of having half the 10-man field in the Chase for the Nextel Cup
championship.

Kurt Busch, the reigning champion, led 2003 champ Matt Kenseth
and Greg Biffle across the finish line on a night when Kenseth
wrapped up a spot in the Chase after struggling through the first
half of the season.

Mark Martin, who came with Roush to the Cup Series in 1988, had
already clinched a place in the top 10 -- along with Busch and
Biffle -- before the race. But, he came back from two laps down
Saturday after a flat tire early to finish on the lead lap, 13th
overall.

Carl Edwards, the youngest of the Roush drivers and perhaps the
biggest surprise, finished 21st in the race and nailed down eighth
place in the points, just ahead of Kenseth, in his first full
season in Cup.

"I'm really excited about taking this group of five to the
final 10 races," Roush said. "I expected to come out tonight with
three cars in the top 10. I was hoping for four.

"The fact that Matt didn't have a flat tire, and he didn't
break anything, and Carl narrowly avoided a crash that would have
been a disaster, was great. The litany of things that can happen
and didn't, that can get on top of you, they stayed away from us
tonight."

Kenseth, who has charged from 17th to ninth in the points in a
three-month period, agreed that the Roush team should be considered
the favorite, with half the Chase field.

"Jack's a good owner," Kenseth said. "He gives us everything
we need to run up front. We all have access to the same stuff and
all five of us work well together."

Others in the series agree that beating Roush is a daunting
challenge.

"I don't know if NASCAR should be concerned, but I'm
concerned," said owner Ray Evernham, who has only one driver,
Jeremy Mayfield, in the Chase. "Really, there's a part of me
that's concerned, and there's a part of me that takes my hat off to
Jack Roush. It's pretty amazing what the man's done."

Roush chased a NASCAR championship for years, famously coming up
short over and over as Martin finished second in the standings a
heartbreaking four times. He entered NASCAR as a single-car owner,
then slowly started to expand his operation.

He added a second car in 1992, then a third in 1996. Two years
later, he had an unheard of five cars. But with expansion came
growing pains, and Roush did not have a legitimate title contender
until 2002 when Martin again fell short.

Roush finally broke through in 2003, when Kenseth won the title.

But Kenseth did it in underwhelming fashion, using consistency
instead of dominance. He won just one race, but had 25 top-10
finishes. It created such an anticlimactic title hunt that NASCAR
overhauled its championship season that winter.

The result is the current 10-race playoff-style format, in which
the top 10 drivers in the standings following the Richmond race are
eligible to win the championship.

Busch used the format to win the title last season, giving Roush
two in a row.

Now, he's on the verge of a dynasty and is largely credited with
creating the blueprint for how to successfully run a multi-car
operation.

But Roush is also often criticized for his approach.

"I'm not really a gambler, but I know if you go to Vegas and
bet five numbers instead of one that your odds are better of
winning," Evernham said. "His odds are certainly better than
anybody's right now."

Roush makes no apologies for his success, and said he warned
NASCAR president Mike Helton of his team's potential when the new
points system was announced.

"I said, 'Mike, right now there has been a lot of criticism on
multi-team programs and it's growing and getting stronger and it's
going to continue to do that,'" Roush said. "I predicted last
year that we'd put all five [in the Chase]. People are going to say
I'm predatory.

"But we've got a really nice group of cars that can go do
pretty much do on any given day what anybody can do in the
business. If we don't put them [all] in the top 10, it's going to
be because I've done something to screw them up."

Roush did his best to prevent that last weekend at California,
using a "team orders" philosophy that is popular in open-wheel
racing. Four of his drivers swept the first four qualifying spots,
and after the race started, each one took a turn leading a lap.

After each driver led long enough to pick up NASCAR's five-point
bonus, he would slow long enough to allow a teammate to pass him
for the lead.

That irritated many of the other competitors.

"It should be every man for himself, but you never know how the
team situation may play out," said Ryan Newman, who began Saturday
night one point out of the 10th and final qualifying spot. "If
five Roush teams are in top 10, they might have an obvious
advantage. The way they were swapping the lead at California for
bonus points makes you wonder if they have something planned for
the last 10 races.

"I don't think it's wrong, and I don't think it's unfair. I
just think it's a part of the sport, and there's a distinct
advantage in having teammates to be able to do that."