If you look at the 2010 record book, you can see exactly where the year turned in the right direction for Roush Fenway Racing: Chicagoland Speedway in July.
In the first 18 races of the 36-race 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan combined for zero victories and just seven top-five finishes in a combined 72 starts.
In the second half of the year, which started with race No. 19 at Chicagoland, the four teamed up for four race victories and 17 top fives. Better yet, each of the four drivers improved his points position — some dramatically — in the second half of the season, with Edwards, Kenseth and Biffle finishing the year fourth through sixth, respectively, while Ragan was a disappointing 24th.
In the Chicagoland race, Edwards finished second, which was best to that point of the season, and Biffle had a fast car before losing an engine. The following race, Biffle was third at the Brickyard 400, then won at Pocono right after that.
And the outfit made its big turnaround while team co-owner Jack Roush was recovering from a July airplane crash at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. Roush was attempting to land his Beechcraft Premiere jet at the airport, which was hosting its annual experimental aircraft show.
“It was basically a landing accident, based on a conflict in airspace with another airplane, after I’d been given clearance to land,” Roush said. “ ... The airplane did a great job. It stayed intact. It’s got a carbon fiber fuselage. It stayed intact and kept me and my passenger relatively safe.”
In the crash, Roush suffered a compression fracture of his back, broke his jaw, damaged his left cheek and lost his left eye. But he survived, just as he did in 2002, when he crashed an experimental aircraft into an Alabama lake on his 60th birthday and had to be rescued from under water.
Without question, the severity of the accident inspired the team to perform for its 68-year-old leader. “When he was in his accident, I think all of us, I know myself, Bob (Osborne, crew chief), all of the people I've talked to have said, ‘What are we going to do with this company here? What if Jack, something is really wrong with Jack, and he can't come back and lead us, what are we going to do?’” Edwards said. “The fact that (Roush) came back to the race track — what was it, two weeks later? Something like that — and never missed a beat, he never talks about himself, he never complains about anything. He's a guy that you want to go to war with.”
And the team rallied to turn what had been a hugely disappointing campaign into a very good one, which ended on a high note with RFR cars winning three of the 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, including the final two at Phoenix and Homestead, which Edwards captured.
And here’s the peculiar twist: The rebound in performance was largely due to adapting front suspension setups from Richard Petty Motorsports, a team that Roush Fenway supplies with race cars and engines. RPM nearly shut down and ultimately was sold at a fire sale price to a group of investors after the season ended.
Roush Fenway also solved a critical problem that plagued it throughout 2009: Computer software simulation tools that simply weren’t as good as what the competition was using. And with on-track testing banned, simulation software is more important than ever.
“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,” said 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 you get passed behind.”
And in the end, 2010 was very good for the team — not a championship season, but certainly successful on a performance level. Roush said that success is what drives him.
“I know when I've had my problems, I've thought, ‘Is this really the way I want to be spending the rest of my life?' And it is,” Roush said. “To enjoy the drama, to enjoy the competition, to enjoy the personnel and challenges and solutions to the problems are the things that really keep me as young as I am and that keep me interested in really carrying on.
“A long time ago, after I won enough championships and won enough races to say that I felt that I had done enough for me — but to be part of everybody else's success that's following me is really what keeps me going.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.