Brant James
Wednesday September 24th, 2008

Jack Roush has one team order: when racing a teammate for a win, don't wad the cars up into a ball ... until you reach Turn One past the checkered flag.

And so was the high drama on Sunday at Dover, where Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards battled throughout the final laps before giving the team a 1-2-3 finish that kept Biffle and Edwards near the top of the Sprint Cup standings with eight races left in the Chase for the Championship.

This could be just the beginning.

Roush Fenway is apparently back, perhaps invoking the days when the team placed all five drivers in the then-10-driver Chase for the Championship (though Tony Stewart won the title) and so concerned NASCAR it instituted a four-car cap that has yet to be enforced. Just three of five Roush Fenway drivers made the 12-man Chase this season -- David Ragan a near-miss at 14th and Jamie McMurray again trying to keep up), but this stream-lined group looks like a sharp arrowhead.

Biffle, winner of both Chase races this season, finished 35 points from the title in 2005 and could become the first to win titles in NASCAR's trucks, Nationwide and Cup series.

Edwards also finished 35 points behind Stewart in 2005 in his first full season, and won the Nationwide championship last year.

Kenseth captured the 2003 Cup title, the last before the Chase's inception, and the two-time defending series champion is one of only two to qualify for the Cup playoffs all five seasons.

Conventional wisdom within the garage suggests that a driver has to be ready mentally, emotionally and experience-wise to win a championship before they ever lift the trophy. (See: Busch, Kyle and 'not yet.') The three Roushketeers would appear to be primed.

Biffle, who started the Chase winless and in 12th place, is within 10 points of points-leader Edwards, and said he feels better now than in a six-win 2005 campaign that was derailed with three races left because a lug nut was not properly tightened at Texas and he had to pit to prevent his wheel from dislodging. He finished 20th, was second at Phoenix and won at Homestead, but Stewart glided to his second championship by finishing 15th.

"We've worked hard this season to get our cars and team to where they need to be, and I guess if you want to use the term 'peak at the right time,' I feel like we have worked very hard all season and now our hard work is starting to show up," Biffle said. "What we worked so hard for was to get a great pit crew, great race cars, great engine and then we've been able to wheel the car into Victory Lane."

And he's not stopped thinking about a first Cup championship, how close he came before.

"I've been thinking about that since 2005," he said

That doesn't mean the Roush contingent has been ordered to shepherd Biffle to the championship stage at Homestead. The ferocity of the late racing at Dover should dispel those notions.

"The plan was [to] have Greg win," Kenseth joked, wryly. "We just tried to make it look really good. ... I don't know. From my part -- I know Carl and everybody has to speak for themselves -- but the team order thing, first of all, Jack's never given me a team order in the car before, and if he did and it was for a race win, I'm sure I would be fired on Monday because you're all going to race as hard you can race to win. It's really, really hard to win these races. It's harder from some of us than others this year, but it's tough to win -- you're going to do everything you can to try to do that."

Such is the corporate mentality of Roush Fenway, a system reflective of the nature of the team founder and his lieutenants. Racing, Roush has said, is an "overtly aggressive, competitive, potentially combative circumstance." He expects his team members to settle their own differences and fight, within reason, for what they want. Competition breeds success, but not necessarily harmony. If the by-product is victory, then so be it.

Whereas fierce competitors at Hendrick Motorsports like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., often appear collegial, Roush drivers often seem like brothers battling for a demanding father's love.

Team president Geoff Smith suggested in a 2005 team meeting that Kenseth and then-crew chief Robbie Reiser, a perennial title-contending tandem that was one of the sport's longest running, should be dissolved when their performance stagnated. Reiser heard a slight and gleaned motivation, which is exactly what Smith wanted. He's had no problem being the foil for his drivers' animosity when it served to generate the reaction the team ultimately desired.

"There's no sugar-coating with Jack," Smith said. "It can be difficult for some people to be kind of laid open in front of everybody, but at the same time it's not done with malice and it's done with a view of making things better. It works really, really well."

Sometimes that manifests itself in the carping that follows one team's performance dipping below another -- questions why their equipment failed and a teammates didn't - or the crew-chief swapping that altered some of Roush's continuity the past few years. Sometimes it bubbles over in Edwards drawing back for an apparent punch of Kenseth last fall at Martinsville that the organization dismisses a game of "made ya flinch."

But when performance intertwines throughout the organization, it manifests great spectacle bred of ultimate competition. Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth have combined to win 27 races since 2005.

"I can't tell you how proud I am or excited that I was to be racing Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards for the win," Biffle said. "Man, we were going at it."

Edwards would have expected, wanted nothing less, even from a teammate.

"Matt, right off the bat, we were running and I blocked him a little bit, I thought, 'How's he going to take this?'," he said. "And he creamed going down the back straightaway and shot me into turn three about five miles an hour faster than I wanted, and I thought, 'All right, this is going to be good.' It was fun."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.