Published May 29, 2010
CONCORD, N.C. – While thumbing through an old journal from 2005, Carl Edwards discovered the entry:
"This is easy. We're going to win a ton of championships."
Initially, the notation made him laugh. Then, the words inspired him. After all, it was Edwards that the media picked to win the Sprint Cup championship in 2009 after winning nine races the previous year. But the No. 99 Ford hasn't been to Victory Lane since the season finale at Homestead in 2008.
Edwards admits, "When it's good, it's easy. When it's not, you can't get down on yourself. You have to be mentally tough."
Nothing has been easy for Edwards or his Roush Fenway Racing teammates this season.
Although Edwards has been in the Chase Zone for seven of the first 12 points races of the year, he's scored just one top-five finish and led just two laps. He has not been close to contending for wins.
"We just aren't fast enough," Edwards said. "The guys have been working really hard. We have been trying a lot of things. Bob (Osborne, crew chief) has been working very closely with the other guys the last couple of weeks. We have been working as a team really well.
"The big thing is to hold it together and not self destruct. We are making progress, but it is painfully slow. I can't wait for one of the engineers to come up with that idea that will make us fast again."
The only driver to win a race under the Ford banner in the last year was Jamie McMurray at Talladega on Oct. 31. McMurray has since moved on to Chevrolet and was victorious with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in this year's Daytona 500. In the Ford camp, Greg Biffle has led laps (125) in five races this season but Kasey Kahne, who is leaving the No. 9 team at the end of the season, has led the most for the manufacturer (178 laps).
Jamie Allison, Ford North American Motorsports director, says not winning is "unacceptable." Allison, a 22-year Ford veteran who stepped into the role in January, doesn't believe the results reflect the teams' recent advancements.
"I know we're all measured by results at the end of the day and it doesn't matter what the circumstances were or what could have happened, but if you just look at the summary, it doesn't indicate the progress that we've made," Allison said.
"We've come off a very tough season a year ago, where there weren't the results we wanted to see. I am measuring progress this year, not necessarily by wins, but by improvement. There have only been a couple of races (out of 12) that have not met our expectations, but I would say in the other nine we've had improvement over a year ago, and it's significant improvement over a year ago."
Certainly, the testing ban has hamstrung Roush Fenway Racing. The organization, which had tested in earnest prior to NASCAR's mandated cutbacks at the end of the 2008 season, directly parallels with a drop-off in results. Relying primarily on simulation programs to determine what baselines to establish without the benefit of testing can lead teams off course.
"When it comes to simulation tools it's not necessarily about people, it's about correlations and making sure that the tools are predictive," Allison said.
"We have internal simulations and then there is motorsports-based or other industry-based simulation that we're looking at to make sure that the tools available to us can indeed help."
Matt Kenseth, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2000, praises Ford for its support of the organization and the resources from the manufacturer. However, Kenseth admits there's a lack of balance when it comes to the distribution of power to the teams under the Blue Oval. While teams have access to the Ford engineers and aerodynamicist, the lion's share of research and development occurs under the Roush roof.
Other manufacturers, such as Chevrolet and Toyota have multiple engine and research and development programs pushing the individual organizations to be better. Chevrolet pools funding into both the Hendrick Motorsports and Earnhardt Childress Racing Technologies engine initiatives. Not only does Toyota incorporate resources in house through Toyota Racing Development, which provides engines to Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull, the manufacturer funds Joe Gibbs Racing's engine program as well.
"When you talk about Ford as a manufacturer, all the eggs are in one basket," Kenseth said. "We are all running the same chassis, have the same engineering department and group of engineers. We run the same engine and have the same body. If we are off as an organization then we are all off.
"The core of it is there so that if one is off, we are all going to be off. We just have to keep working at it. I don't know the answer as far as bringing someone in or mixing things up. I have my opinions and voice them regularly, but there is only so much I can do."
To keep the current situation in perspective, Edwards reminds himself that this sport relies on "man and machine" -- the driver cannot carry the team to Victory Lane on his own.
"When you are doing well it is easy to think you are the man," Edwards said. "But when it doesn't go well it is easy to point at the car. It is one of the hardest things.
"I am fortunate myself to have had success and have wins so that no matter how much I struggle I don't lose confidence."
What's old is new again
Kasey Kahne was fifth fastest first practice session on Saturday with a lap of 183.849 mph and jumped to third on the speed chart (179.784 mph) during happy hour.
"We just started off really good," Kahne said. "The car was actually perfect that first run. You don't get that situation too often. I think that is the key to why we were the best car."
Kahne will pilot the car he led 144 laps in at Atlanta and finished fourth.
Kahne has enjoyed tremendous success at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the past when he drove Dodges. In 12 starts, Kahne has scored three wins, five top-fives and seven top-10 finishes.
The 500 club
For the first time in history, the Harley J. Earl trophy kept the Borg-Warner trophy company at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.
Although no team owner has been able to collect both awards in the same season, Chip Ganassi, who won Indianapolis 500 with both Juan Pablo (2000) and Scott Dixon (2008) hopes to rewrite the record books on Sunday.
While reflecting on the significance of winning both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, Ganassi and Roger Penske told the tale of a text exchange after Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in February.
"The night of the Daytona 500 I got a little text on my phone," Ganassi recalled. "It said, 'Welcome to the 500 Club. RP.' I just wrote back, I said, 'Thanks.'
"Then kind of the next day it hit me what that was, the 500 Club. I thought, 'Jesus, that's a tiny club.' It didn't even hit me at first, you know, what it had meant to win."
Penske, who has a record 15 victories in the Indy 500 but just one Daytona 500 win in 2008, replied, "That's the of Augusta racing, I guess."
Get your motor running
Shell/Pennzoil's relationship is far from over with Richard Childress Racing.
The latest twist will offer one fan the opportunity to win a new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS2 -- the first vehicle produced by RCR Street Performance as part of the "Get Your Key to Clean" sweepstakes.
Starting June 1, fans can visit www.pennzoil.com to sign up to win a RCR VIP experience for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. Five finalists will receive keys for the Camaro SS2 but only one will start the car. The contest runs through July 31st.
Shell/Pennzoil announced a few weeks ago that they would leave Kevin Harvick and RCR at the end of the year to sponsor Kurt Busch at Penske Racing.