By Cory Mccartney
April 29, 2010

1. I was standing among a small group of reporters outside of Carl Edwards' hauler at Talladega, waiting to film a forthcoming installment of Inside the Helmet when Jack Roush, co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing and Edwards' employer, emerged from the garage and hurriedly made his way toward the mobile headquarters of the No. 99.

"Here comes the boss," called out one of my fellow writers. We parted, letting the RFR patriarch through as he disappeared behind the tinted glass doors of Edwards' hauler.

There's little doubt that "The Cat in the Hat" remains a racing icon. But his continued standing as track royalty has been one of the few things that have consistently worked in Roush's favor of late.

That's not to say that this year hasn't had its overwhelming positives after RFR took a major step back in 2009. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are currently third and fourth, respectively, in the points, while Edwards is one off the Chase cutline at 13th. But in stacking Roush Fenway up against the Sprint Cup series' other powers, it's hard to not put the team of Biffle, Edwards, Kenseth and David Ragan fourth behind Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. RFR has fewer drivers in the current Chase field than Hendrick's four and RCR's three and has less wins than Gibbs. Of course that's a sore subject considering the current RFR lineup hasn't won since the second week of the '09 season, a 43-race drought that is the longest of any of the big five teams.

It's a different existence altogether from the end of '08, when RFR and Edwards appeared to have positioned themselves as the most logical challengers for Hendrick's and Jimmie Johnson's thrones. So how has Roush Fenway steered off course? As one insider told me: one major reason that the organization is a step behind the series' other powers is because Ford has it game-planning for the present and the future at the same time.

The catalyst that was supposed to launch Roush Fenway into the next stratosphere was the FR9 engine, which Roush himself unveiled at an '09 preseason media event. But the development of the team's new weapon has been painstakingly slow, with last Sunday at Talladega marking the first points race in which the majority of the Ford Fusions were running the FR9.

Roush Fenway is expected to switch to the engine beginning with the July return to Daytona, though it won't be using it at Bristol and Watkins Glen. So even after its arrival, RFR will continue to be in a position where it's trying to maximize what it can get out of its current engine, all the while trying to figure out a new foundation that it can't fully wrap its head around because of NASCAR's rule prohibiting testing on any series track.

The team will benefit from its information-sharing relationship with Wood Brothers, which has run the FR9 in each race of its part-time schedule with Bill Elliott at the wheel and the few times it's been able to use it on a Cup track (at Daytona, teams ran it in practice, qualifying and the Duels, with only Elliott Sadler, Elliott and Kenseth racing it in the 500), though that info can only help so much. There's bound to be growing pains as Roush's crew figures out what they can do with the new engine, and they'll be doing it under the gun with just eight races before the Chase.

It's a bizarre set of circumstances that Ford has created for Roush Fenway, and while it may eventually pay off, in the meantime it could potentially take the wind out of the sails of a franchise that's already trying to work its way back.

2. If there's one thing NASCAR purists can't stand it's change. Well, it's a close second to Fox's intolerable Digger the gopher, but change is most certainly up there. Which is all the more reason I'm expecting a few of those loyalists to the sport's past to be irate when I say that the green-white-checkered overtimes could go down as the best move of the Brian France era.

Seeing the Aaron's 499 turn into the Aaron's 532 may irk some fans who'll say that the overtime attempts, of which there were three at 'Dega, fabricate excitement and kill race strategy, but who can refute the end result: that Talladega gave us one of the best finishes in years?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. voiced his concerns at the number of green-white-checkered attempts, saying "It's a lottery. Points racing, racing for championships, shouldn't be a lottery." But keep in mind that Junior was running in the top-10 all race but fell back to 13th due to the reshuffling. Had he cracked the top-five after a restart would he have been so quick to knock the overtime rules?

Drivers' views on OT will change weekly with how it affects their finishes, but at the end of the day, let's not forget who this rule was instituted for: the fans. And it's hard to deny that we're the ones making out by avoiding the three worst words in racing: won under caution. Even the purists can't argue with that.

36: Car number of Casey Mears' new ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing, which he takes over this weekend at Richmond.

4: Teams Mears has been a part of in the last 12 months (Richard Childress Racing, Keyed-Up Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and now Baldwin).

1: Races Mears has qualified for this season, finishing 30th at Bristol.

Kyle Busch is tempting with eight top 10s in 10 starts at the ¾-mile track, but Jeff Gordon is just too intriguing a pick. In the last six Richmond races, Wonder Boy (can we still call a 38-year-old that?) hasn't finished outside the top nine and he's driving with a Gibraltar-size chip on his shoulder with the brewing non-rivalry-rivalry with Jimmie Johnson. I'll take a driver who's determined and proven any day.

In the latest video entry, I talk to Bowyer about his golf course punking of notorious prankster Kevin Harvick, his favorite box of Hamburger Helper, crossing the finish line in Daytona upside down (and on fire) and more. For the entire Inside the Helmet collection, visit the archive.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)