2010-12-16 / Sports

Roush Hopes To Repeat Second Half Success

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Greg Biffle Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Racing has already begun work on the 2011 NASCAR racing season, a season Jack Roush hopes will produce him his first Sprint Cup championship, and keep Jimmie Johnson from winning a sixth crown.

While the team has four drivers, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were the best this past season.

Biffle told Speed that he would be happy to repeat the tale of the second half of last season. Although the team didn’t get a victory until Biffle scored at Pocono in the 21st race of the season, the year ended with Biffle winning twice, including once during the Chase.

Teammate Carl Edwards won twice during the Chase, providing a significant surge of confidence for the upcoming year.

The upswing started in mid-season at Chicagoland Speedway, Biffle said, when Roush Fenway’s experimentation with front-suspension changes – aided by input from Richard Petty Motorsports mechanics – began paying dividends.

“Carl finished second (to David Reutimann) there, and I ran up front before we blew an engine,” Biffle said. “That was the start of it, and we had success right from there.

“If we could start the clock from there – go with the second half of the season, especially the last third, all that was really good. I think we’re going to start off the same way. I feel totally confident in that.”

Despite the fact that every Ford team struggled to find its footing through the first half of the season, the closing months reignited the fire and gave Roush Fenway a solid base to build on for next year.

Biffle finished in the top- 10 in five of the season’s final eight races, and he, Edwards and Matt Kenseth finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the final point standings, respectively.

“It was a great season for us,” Biffle said. “Now, there’s really not a lot of time after this week to sit around and wait until next year starts. It’s really only four or five weeks until we’re on the race track, so we really have to work on our race cars and get ready for that. I have to stay in shape. And we have to get ready for the test in Daytona.”

With his fifth Sprint cup championship behind him, Jimmie Johnson is being labeled as one of the great NASCAR drivers of all times.

While he is a winning driver, he is not NASCAR’s most favorite driver. There are many people that see his domination of the sport as one of the reason’s NASCAR is on the decline.

In reality, Johnson is creating the kind of success that’s unrivaled in all professional sports, much less stock-car racing. Instead of complaining about Johnson’s success, maybe the industry should revel in it.

“People tell me they hate me, but they respect me, and that’s always cool,” Johnson said. “In the moment, I think it’s tough for fans to maybe look at what we have accomplished, because they want their guy to win, and I understand that. But I know what they have done today is respected sports-wide, not just in our little bubble we live in, but sports-wide.”

Let’s face it: If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just won his fifth consecutive championship, NASCAR’s popularity might be better.

Nobody would complain about the same driver or the same team winning all the time, because nobody is revered more in the sport than the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.

Car owner Rick Hendrick has committed his entire organization to fixing Junior’s problems, especially after winning just one race in his first three years at Hendrick Motorsports.

Junior not only didn’t win this season but was seldom in contention and nowhere close to making the Championship Chase.

Magnifying Earnhardt’s slump was the magic carpet ride of teammate Jimmie Johnson to yet another championship.

What happened to Junior is NASCAR’s biggest driver story of the 2010.

Earnhardt, unlike Johnson, has no championship legacy to defend, but he has an even heavier burden on his shoulders: the legacy of his name, the great expectations that ride with the Son of the Intimidator

Earnhardt will be getting his third crew chief in less than two years next season when Steve Letarte moves over from Jeff Gordon’s team. If Letarte is able to help Junior get just one win, it would be a resurrection of his career. A win would certainly mean a lot to the legion of Junior fans.

Despite junior’s struggles on the track, Hendrick Motorsports has begun negotiating a contract extension for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Team owner Rick Hendrick told ESPN.com of his plans last Thursday after Earnhardt was named the sport’s most popular driver for the eighth straight year.

“We’re looking at extending it,” Hendrick said. “I really like him. I think the world of him. I know he can do it. We just have to get the right combination in, and I think we’re going to have it. I hope we get to race together until he retires ... until I retire.”

Extending the contract would end any speculation that Earnhardt might move his Nationwide Series program to Sprint Cup after 2012 and drive for himself or go to another team. But Earnhardt’s first priority is making sure the next time he returns to Las Vegas for the season-ending banquet it is as a member of the Chase field and not just to get a popularity award.

“The only person that can truly help me get where I need to go starts with me, then it goes to Rick, Steve [Letarte] and those guys in your inner circle every week and in your corner every week,” said Earnhardt, who finished 21st in points. “My biggest problem, I think, is my confidence.”

Racing trivia question. Which is the oldest track on the NASCAR Cup circuit?

Last week’s question: Which Cup team does Martin Truex drive for? Answer. He drives the No. 56 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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