Before leaving the garage of the No. 99, Roush slides his hand over the right front fender of the Taurus, feeling tiny ripples in the bodywork. He frowns and shakes his head. The fender repair might be OK for a Saturday night shootout on a short track, but this isn't a Saturday night, and Edwards won't be racing it on some obscure short track with fans collecting splinters from wooden bleachers.
This is the Nextel Cup at Daytona, and a win here in February is the one racing prize that has eluded Roush for 17 years. This is where the term "close enough" will never be.
That attitude made Roush one of the most successful team owners in racing, with titles in drag racing, sports cars, endurance cars, and in NASCAR's Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series. His unrelenting drive for perfection and focus on long-term goals earned him the final Winston Cup title in 2003 with Kenseth and the first Nextel Cup last year with Busch.
"Jack's incredibly focused," says Scott Pruett, who won three sports car championships for Roush Racing in the '80s.
"He's completely involved in racing 24-7-365," he says. "And to be successful with Jack, you have to have that same type of focus. I know that some people have a hard time sustaining that level of commitment."
"He is the most analytical car owner I've ever met," adds Gary Nelson, once among the most respected crewchiefs in NASCAR. Nelson later went on to be the series' director of competition and now heads the NASCAR Research and Development Center.
"He would just never take 'That's Racing' as an answer," Nelson says. "Jack always wanted to go deeper. He always asked one more question and pushed us for just one more answer."
It is what makes Jack, Jack.
"It's the way I am," Roush says. "I don't think I could be any different."
Jack's Closest CallHis headquarters just outside the Concord (North Carolina) Regional Airport near Lowe's Motor Speedway is "The House That Jack Built." It is a showplace of technology, efficiency, and style. The modern, landscaped complex of buildings would look at home in any high-tech campus in the nation.
The glass-walled entrance leads to a series of shops where everything is done in-house, from welding the first pieces of steel that forms a chassis to testing engines before they are installed. His fingerprints are on every part of a car's evolution.
"He's still a very intense racer," says Doug Richert, Biffle's crewchief. "He's still very much a hands-on owner. He doesn't get in the way, but he's there for you if you need him."
That's what he's doing this Friday morning at Daytona-being there if they need him. There was a moment when he was in danger of not being there at all.
It was in April 2002, on his 60th birthday, and Roush was on a solo flight to Talladega Superspeedway in a borrowed airplane. Roush, a veteran pilot, clipped some unmarked power lines and crashed into a lake in nearby Troy.
Roush was trapped inside the plane, upside down, still belted in. He had injuries to both legs, a concussion, and was unconscious.
Larry Hicks witnessed the crash, and the former Marine jumped into a boat and sped to the rescue. Hicks, trained in underwater rescue, dove into the lake three times before finally freeing Roush from the wreckage. He pulled Roush, barely alive, to the surface and pumped the water from his lungs.
Roush says the crash, and everything that happened to allow him to survive it, humbled him and gave him an appreciation and reverence for life.
It has not, however, diminished his enthusiasm for flying. He still pilots his own airplane and is actively involved in restoring and flying vintage aircraft, including a P51 Mustang named "Old Crow."
He stopped leasing 10 small planes and bought a pair of 727s, decorated with "Roush Air" and a stylized image of the owner on the tails, to ferry teams across the country.
Surviving the crash also caused Roush to redouble his efforts to make the most of every minute he has left.
The Martin FactorHe crosses to the garage that holds Martin's battered Ford. The engine bay is empty and the bodywork is unfinished. It isn't going to make Friday practice.
"We had a back-up car," Roush says. "It would have made sense from the time involved to pull it out of the trailer, but Mark really likes this car and it is what he wanted to drive on Sunday."
Casual fans have a hard time comprehending how two cars made in the same shop by the same crew using the same equipment can have different personalities. Even the fabricators can't tell why the racing DNA is different in each one, but they swear it is.
So do the drivers, and that's good enough for Roush. He told Pat Tryson, Martin's crewchief, to use whatever resources needed to put the car back together again.
By the time the chassis is ready for Sunday's race, Tryson figures there will be more than 120 man hours into its repair.
"We didn't have any options," Tryson says. "The back-up car could never match this one. It's a lot of time and effort, but it's what we do."
"Every one of the cars we have here is different," Roush says. "Some are high downforce, high drag; others are low drag, low downforce.
"Some are faster down the straight, others go through the corners quicker," he adds. "Hopefully it will all balance out when they run in traffic. The one we use all depends on what the driver likes, what he is most comfortable with."
The rebuilding effort on Martin's car is testament to how much Roush thinks of his driver. Martin has been a faithful soldier for 17 years, and the boss wants nothing less than to give his retiring star one last chance to win a championship.
"I don't think we'll see many more like Mark," Roush says. "I know Greg (Biffle) doesn't plan to race forever. Matt (Kenseth) doesn't want to either. I honestly don't think you'll see many new drivers staying around until they are 45. That era is probably gone.
"They'll get to the point where they've made enough money and the pressures from young drivers will be so great they'll want to leave."
Roush is concerned about some of the drivers coming to the series, those with more attitude than talent and experience.
"The owners have a responsibility to keep that in check," he says. "Sponsors certainly have a say in it, as does NASCAR. But ultimately, it is up to the team owner to decide what is acceptable."
Some drivers of the next generation are already in the Roush stable, being trained in the two teams in the Craftsman Truck Series and three in Busch.
Even his hiring practices are unique to Roush. About three years ago, he created what he calls "The Gong Show" that pits aspiring drivers against one another on a track none of them have driven before. It is a now-or-never, high-pressure environment that tests the driving mettle and communications skills under competition.
"It's different," says Roush, "but it works. I think an owner has a responsibility to help grow the sport. One of the things I'm proud of is the opportunity we've given young drivers to enter NASCAR and learn and mature with us."
Critics say Roush takes advantage of young, talented drivers by signing them to long-term contracts at apprentice level wages. Others say he's simply running his racing business as a business, and that's what keeps the teams busy and sponsors happy.
For Roush, it isn't always just about business. Sometimes hiring decisions are made based on factors that can't be quantified.
Dave Winston, engineer on Biffle's Taurus, says he applied for his job with Roush in the middle of the interstate.
"There was a tractor trailer jack-knifed in the middle of the highway and all the traffic was stopped," Winston says. "I got out of my car to see what was going on and I looked around and saw Jack Roush standing a few cars away.