We returned to the track for qualifying for the Nationwide race. Roush driver Jamie McMurray won the pole with a blistering lap that put a wide smile on Roush’s face. Edwards also had a good qualifying effort that put him on the second row. Roush was very pleased.
As we headed towards a pre-race hospitality session with one of McMurray’s sponsors, Roush proudly walked through the Nationwide garage, stopping to sign autographs and have his picture taken.
Roush is very much a star in this sport and everywhere he goes he is instantly recognizable with his straw hat and glasses. At times, I felt as if I was walking with a Hollywood star, having to stop to remove myself from the line of sight as Roush stopped for photographs with race fans.
Roush loves the attention and adoration of the fans. And while all of it could easily result in an overblown ego, there’s none of that with Roush.
At the hospitality area, Roush did a 15-minute non-stop stand up routine, recounting anecdotes with his drivers, answering questions.
The first Sprint Cup practice started almost immediately after Nationwide qualifying ended. After the hospitality stop, we headed to the Cup garage.
With five team haulers from which to choose, Roush stations himself inside of Greg Biffle’s during race weekends. It’s where he keeps his radios and his other personal items.
During practice, Roush monitors each of his teams with one radio in his left ear. In his right ear he listens to NASCAR race control and monitors the communication of several other teams.
It was during practice that I discovered the importance of spark plugs.
They are Roush’s sole focus during practice. The device he carries, the one that looks like something a doctor would poke in your ear to look inside your ears, is designed to allow the observer a close look at the firing tip end of a spark plug once it has been removed from an engine.
To Roush, it’s like reading tea leaves.
“Because NASCAR doesn’t allow us the use of things like oxygen sensors, spark plugs are the only indicator of how an engine is performing,” explained Roush.
I followed him from pit stall to pit stall, tool in hand, as he closely examined each and every spark plug.
“Spark plugs are the only way to determine where you are with the engine,” said Roush. “They are an indicator of whether or not you are too aggressive with your engine setup or too stingy with your fuel use.”
My lesson on spark plugs continued up in the lounge of the 16 car hauler as race engineers discussed with Roush planned changes for Happy Hour.
“It’s important to get the best fuel mileage you can out of your engine,” said Roush. “We’ve seen more and more of those kinds of races.”
As he talked, Roush had been preparing several pages in a book for the Nationwide race later that evening. In this day of computers, handheld PDAs and touch screens, Roush still writes his lap-by-lap data during the race on a spiral bound notebook.
“I still like to do things the old-fashioned way,” said Roush.
In between practice sessions, we headed back to brother Frank’s coach and met up with Roush’s girlfriend Brenda and the rest of Frank’s family and a few friends for an intimate, home-cooked meal that included Frank’s secret family recipe for sweet potatoes and home made ice cream.
The sweet potatoes were not the usual orange variety I’d come to know. They were small, lengthy and yellow inside.
“Our father showed Frank how to grow them and it took years for Frank to finally figure out how to do it right,” joked Roush. He then went into great detail about the special spuds that had been passed down by generations through the family from seed that had been brought over from Germany decades ago.
During Happy Hour, all five Roush Fenway cars were fast, with Edwards the fastest. Yet, Roush wasn’t very pleased.
“Look at that,” said Roush, pointing to Jimmie Johnson’s name on the scoring monitor. “The 48 car is good, too. We need to gain on him.”
With Happy Hour concluded, his final round of spark plug examinations ended, Roush headed back to the 16 car hauler where he and crew chief Greg Erwin discussed suspension set ups and a game plan for Saturday night’s race.
While Roush makes Biffle’s hauler his home during race weekends, there are no playing favorites here. He is equally as interested in each of his race teams, asking questions of each crew chief and talking to each driver when he can.
The Nationwide race was a lengthy start and stop affair, with rain halting the action twice. Roush spent the evening walking between the pit boxes of his three teams, occasionally climbing atop of the pit box and keeping track of everything in his spiral notebook.
With midnight approaching, I said goodnight and with the race still going.
“Tomorrow night will be a good night,” said Roush.