The engines are still. The grandstands are emptying. Jeff Gordon's voice is filling the infield with yet another description of how he just won his third Daytona 500. It's all just white noise to Jack Roush.
Roush arrived here more than 10 days earlier with five cars specifically developed to help Ford match the success of the dominating Chevrolets in NASCAR's premier race.
Now he marches through the garage area, surveying the damage and talking to the survivors of the Daytona 500 like a general assessing battlefield losses.
Matt Kenseth was the first to fall when the engine in his No. 17 expired. Greg Biffle's No. 16 car was strong until he got caught up in a multi-car wreck that left it with both front fenders peeled off and looking like a short-track Modified.
Carl Edwards salvaged a 12th place finish in the No. 99 Taurus. He said it actually ran better after he hit teammate Mark Martin in the rear, making the bodywork narrower.
Martin, the sentimental favorite who is beginning his final season in NASCAR's top series, soldiered on to Sixth in a car that probably should have been rolled into the attic of the team hauler after being wrecked during a Thursday qualifying race.
Kurt Busch, the defending Nextel Cup champion, nearly stole the win out from underneath Gordon after dueling with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Second Place.
For Roush, it is just another routine day at the office.
Nearly four hours earlier, he climbed the ladder to the top of the "war wagon" behind Martin's pit box and settled in for work. He adjusted his ever-present hat, opened his notebook, and engaged the mind of NASCAR's consummate mathematician.
From atop Martin's pit box he monitored the progress of all five Roush Racing teams for the entire 500 miles, eavesdropping on drivers and crews making hundreds of decisions that can spell success or failure on the track. They are all there as part of the Roush brigade because of a decision Roush himself made decades earlier.
"This is something I wanted to do when I was in my twenties," he says. "It took me 15 years to put together the finances to do it, but it was always a goal."
There have been lots of goals along the way and no shortage of challenges and successes. That's especially true at Daytona's unique racing marathon.
Hands-On OwnerIt is Friday morning on the final week of Daytona Speedweeks. Roush is walking through the Nextel Cup garages like a drill sergeant with a duty roster. There's so much work to do and so little time to get it all done. He already called for reinforcements in the form of body men and fabricators from his headquarters in Charlotte to help with the work.
The cars for Martin and Edwards took heavy body blows in Thursday's 60-lap qualifying races at the 2.5-mile oval. Edwards' Ford is well on the way to being ready for afternoon practice.
Roush looks up at the overcast sky and sniffs the moisture-laden ocean air.
"You rejet? You go up two?" he asks a crewmember who is tightening the final bolts on the carburetor.
Only a few years ago it would have been Jack installing new jets.
"I used to do all the carb jetting," he says with a shrug. "Then we hired some certified, ordained carb jet experts, and they won't let me touch them.
"Either they figured I was losing it, or they got better," he adds with a smile.
In spite of his self-deprecating humor, Roush remains a team owner equally comfortable in the engine room or the boardroom. He fashioned his racing empire by scraping knuckles and lancing fingers, building Ford engines into race-winning powerplants and teams into champions. Along the way, he created the largest racing organization in NASCAR.
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.
"I went over and introduced myself and told him I was from Connecticut and that I moved to the Charlotte area to become part of a race team. I was working at Freightliner and having no luck finding a job in racing. He took a real interest in me and told me who to contact at Roush Racing.
"That was in August. I had my job in November."
Business "Out Of Control""It's a huge operation, and Jack is a good businessman," says Robbie Reiser, crewchief for Kenseth's car. "But he also tries to take care of his people. I don't know of another car owner that would have done what Jack did when he ran the 99 car for an entire season without a sponsor. Those who could do it, probably wouldn't."
More teams mean more opportunity to learn, more chances to win, more payroll, more sponsor commitments, more shop space-more of everything.
At any given race, Roush may have as many as 10 teams at a track, and he admits it can be hard to keep everything in check.
"It's been out of control for years," he says grinning. "But control is just a state of mind."
He spends most races working the figures for Martin's car. He looks at lap times, knows the carb jettings and what kind of fuel consumption the car is getting. He knows exactly when it should run dry.
"It's not much, but it's all I can do," he says.
You get the feeling Roush sometimes longs for the days when he could do more, when there was more for him to do. He is not unlike many executives who have built a successful business and worked themselves out of the very jobs that attracted him to their careers. So while Roush is setting the course for his racing empire, it is the people he's hired who have their hands on the tiller.
Make no mistake-Roush is still very much the man in charge.
"Jack's always in the middle of things, like you would expect a hands-on team owner to be," says Reiser. "Sometimes I'm really glad he's there, then there are times I wish he wasn't."
Take Tuesdays, for example.
Each week, Roush calls together the key players from all his teams to sit down and talk over what happened the previous weekend.
"We each compare ourselves to the other teams, because we all have access to similar equipment," Richert says. "As a crewchief, as long as Greg and I stand behind our decisions-that we made what we thought were the best ones at the time-he's pretty good about letting us do things our way. If we screw up, he's going to want to know why."
"When we are doing well, he leaves us to ourselves," Reiser explains. "When we aren't doing well, then the rope gets a little tighter.
"He puts no limit on what we can do when it comes to testing. If we want to try something really different, or look at something from a different angle, he lets us do it. He actually encourages us. But if we find something that works, we are better off sharing things with the other teams. First of all, in a company this big, you can't keep a secret anyway. And sometimes, when we tell the others about it on Tuesday, they'll run with it and make it better."
Building A ReputationRoush is among the most easily recognized characters in NASCAR. He marches from garage to garage, his brow furrowed as he turns a problem over in his head. He can be so focused that he doesn't even see the papers and programs thrust toward him for autographs.
When things are going well, when everything is under control, a grin opens beneath his always-present hat as he poses for photos, talks with fans, or tells youngsters about how to get involved in racing.
While Roush came into the series as a NASCAR rookie, he was far from a newcomer to racing, and he wasn't timid.
"Jack doesn't know how to put his toe in the water," says Robert Yates, who has worked both with and against Roush. "He simply arrives and kicks a hole in the wall. Everyone knew he was there."
"I had already won multiple championships and knew what racing is all about," Roush says. "Maybe I wasn't 'rookie' enough for them or maybe they saw the degrees from Ohio and forgot I was born in Kentucky."
Jack came to NASCAR during an era when most car owners had built their teams up from scratch, often relying on old-school technology that had defined the sport for decades, technology only a step or two away from local bullrings, in some cases. Roush arrived as a degreed engineer, a former college math instructor, and someone with deep ties to Ford.
He showed from the start that success would follow him.
"His philosophy [involves] putting time, energy, and resources into something until he is successful," says Yates. "Nothing is going to dissuade him.
"Opinionated? Oh yes. He has an opinion on everything, and he's never been reluctant to share it."
Simply said, Roush irritated NASCAR.
"That's up to a writer to say, not me," Roush says. "But I'm sure that Mark Martin would have won a couple of championships if he had been driving for another team years ago."
Instead, Martin-with four Second-Place finishes in the points-could become the best NASCAR driver in history never to win the season title.
The Martin/Roush duo hit NASCAR in 1988 when they finished 15th in points in his rookie year. In 1989, Martin was Third; in 1990, he lost the title to Dale Earnhardt by 26 points. He finished Second to Earnhardt again in 1994, to Jeff Gordon in 1998, and to Tony Stewart in 2002.
Roush openly criticized NASCAR for penalties he feels cost Martin the championship. He might have won in 1990 had his team not been fined 46 driver points for an illegal carburetor spacer found on his Ford after a race at Richmond International Raceway. He was docked 25 points for using an unapproved spring in 2002. That penalty was moot. Stewart finished more than 25 points ahead of Martin, but the penalty added fuel to the critics who feel NASCAR has a bias against the veteran.
"NASCAR," says one, "has a very long memory."
So does Roush. He remembers everything it took him to get where he is today.
"I think I'd like to be known as someone who didn't give up," he says. "I want people to remember me as someone who didn't change in the face of opposition, who fought for what he thought was right even when he knew he couldn't win the fight, and who always did what was best for the sport and my teams.
"And I'd like to be known as someone who won races."
Not this time. It's Sunday evening. The last of the Roush cars are being pushed into the haulers and tied down for the trip back to Concord, where they'll be stripped bare and rebuilt for the next superspeedway race.
Roush is making his final round of the teams, thanking each one of them for the months-long marathon it takes to get to Daytona.
Busch came up one position shy of winning NASCAR's biggest race. It's not the first time a Roush driver has finished Second.
"He gave it a heck of a run," says the boss. "He was in there getting everything there was to get, right until the flag fell."
He stops and stares at Biffle's car. Its front fenders are already missing, the driver-side door is decorated with black circles from rubbing tires with the competition, and the tail end is covered with duct tape.
He takes a second look. Then he grins, shakes his head, and walks away.
From under the hat comes his gravelly voice: "Nice job, guys. Good work out there."