Today's story is Jack Roush. Injured in a plane crash last week, Roush got to watch, albeit from a hospital bed in Minnesota, one of his cars drive to victory lane for the first time this season. In the big picture, however, Greg Biffle's win Sunday at Pocono Raceway is more than just a feel-good story.
The 2010 season has been, in a word, nightmarish for the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization. The year kicked off with Jamie McMurray, the ousted RFR driver, winning the Daytona 500. Then he backed that up with a win in the Brickyard 400, giving him a sweep of the season's two biggest races. In between, this season has witnessed RFR team leader Matt Kenseth switch crew chiefs three times and the face of the organization, Carl Edwards, put on probation twice for on-track incidents. On the flip side, the one thing 2010 hadn't produced is a single victory for RFR's four drivers.
Then on Tuesday, Roush, an aviation buff, crashed his plane while attempting to land at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. Miraculously, Roush walked away from the crash, though not without injuries. He has had two surgeries on his face and remains at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
So going into Sunday's race, not only did the team have heavy hearts but also they weren't very competitive. Or at least they hadn't been until Biffle did what he did.
"In victory lane [Jack] told me that he had never met somebody that had the will to win like I do," said Biffle, who won for the first time in 65 races. "I'm just so thankful we were able to put Roush Fenway back in victory lane. We know it's been a long time. … This hopefully is the one that's it."
In reality, the result has been brewing for Biffle. He had a solid car two races ago at Chicagoland before his engine blew and felt he should have won last weekend at Indianapolis, where he finished third.
Sunday's race got off to a brutal start when Biffle hit the wall in Turn 1 of Lap 1. That put him out of contention for most of the race, which was dominated by Jimmie Johnson early and Jeff Gordon late.
With rain looming in the closing laps, teams were forced to make strategic calls on the final pit stop with a little more than 20 laps to go: take four tires, lose track position and hope the race goes the distance, or take two tires, gain track position and hope it either rains or they can hold on.
Gordon, who went down pit road for the final stop with the lead, opted for four tires and came out 13th. Biffle, whose decision to take four tires last weekend at Indianapolis cost him the win, came onto pit road third, took two tires and came out second. He was behind only Sam Hornish Jr., who didn't pit.
"Last week I didn't think there would be as many cars that would put two on. We figured there would be a couple," explained Greg Erwin, Biffle's crew chief. "This week I started second guessing myself. I bet there's going to be three or four cars put four on that last stop, and they did. The 14 [Tony Stewart], the 29 [Kevin Harvick] and one other there. They all lined up in a row on four tires. I said, 'Boy oh boy, if they come on through that field on four tires, get up there, win this race, we're really going to feel bad.' "
That wouldn't be the case because for the second straight race two tires proved the correct call. Once Biffle got around Hornish, he drove away from the field, winning by more than 3.5 seconds. Gordon, meanwhile, made up only seven spots and wound up sixth.
"Obviously the right call was two, but you don’t know that when you are sitting there," Gordon said. "I mean, all the guys around us took four. So I think we did the right call for the position that we were in."
A month ago, the Chase chances for Biffle and Carl Edwards, who finished third Sunday, were very much in doubt. Both were on the bubble, and neither was showing much sign of life that he could be a contender if fortunate enough to make it in the 12-driver field.
Now, however, with five races to go before the Chase field is set, Biffle and Edwards hold sizable 122- and 136-point leads, respectively, over Mark Martin in 13th.
Though one win and a third-place finish doesn't immediately put them back on the same level as the legit contenders – Gordon, Harvick, Johnson and Denny Hamlin – it's a start for a team whose current lineup of drivers hadn't won a race since Feb. 22, 2009.
"Just picture yourself working 60, 70, a hundred hours a week, right, 40, 50 weeks out of the year, coming up short, watching these guys kick your butt every week, basking in the glory," Erwin said. "Being able to walk in front of those guys 6 o'clock every Monday morning, look 'em in the eye, tell 'em, 'We'll get them next week.' That's what you've got to do.
"It's going to be a lot easier tomorrow morning to stand in front of them, I can tell you that. Big momentum boost. Perfect time of the season."
And a perfect time for Jack Roush, who, despite not being at the track Sunday, still left his mark.