Kenseth has Roush well out front in title chase

Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) _ The law of averages haven't worked in Jack Roush's favor over the years.

Fielding at least one Winston Cup entry for the past 15 years, the team owner has yet to win a championship.

That could be about to change, though. Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth goes into Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway a whopping 258 points ahead of second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 14 races remaining.

Roush can be excused if he doesn't want to take anything for granted. He has been close before, only to see the title lost due to bad luck or other things out of his control.

Last year, Roush driver Mark Martin battled Tony Stewart to the end, but came up 38 points short. It would have been even closer had Martin not been docked 25 points by NASCAR late in the season for a technical violation.

Martin, who has been with Roush since the owner brought a team to NASCAR's top stock car series in 1988, has finished second four times, including losing to Dale Earnhardt by just 26 points in 1990.

Having only finished out of the top 10 in five races this year, Kenseth is known as NASCAR's ``Mr. Consistency.'' He'd have to have a major blowout to keep Roush out off the stage at the New York postseason awards ceremony in December. Nobody has ever blown a lead that big this late in the NASCAR season.

``I will be honored and I'll be relieved if it ever happens for Matt this year, because I'll feel like whatever bad karma or whatever bad luck I brought on people'' has ended, Roush said.

Roush, an avid pilot who last year survived the crash of an one-man experimental aircraft, acknowledges he has plenty to be thankful for. But he still feels cheated out of at least one championship _ maybe more.

``Mark Martin has been of a caliber and certainly been in a position to have won a number of championships,'' said Roush, who was upset when NASCAR made aerodynamic changes that he felt favored Chevrolets and Pontiacs over his Fords.

``That upset the balance of competition and, if there wasn't already an advantage for the Pontiacs and the Chevrolets, it was certainly shifted that way,'' Roush said.

While Martin has struggled this year, Kenseth has become Roush's best hope _ somewhat surprisingly.

Kurt Busch, who won three of the final five races last year, was a favorite going into 2003. He has won three times this year, including the June race at the Michigan track, but Busch is a distant eighth in the standings thanks to mechanical problems and crashes.

Roush's other Cup drivers, Jeff Burton and rookie Greg Biffle, are 13th and 22nd in the points, respectively. But Burton, who fell to 10th and 12th in the points the last two years after four straight top-five finishes, appears to have turned around his season in the last two months. And Biffle is the top rookie of 2003 and gained his first Winston Cup win last month in Daytona.

``On a good day I've got four losers, and I find that I spend more of my time working on the things gone wrong and agonizing over the missed opportunities than I do celebrating the things gone right,'' Roush said. ``So it has not been a year that is that much different from any other year.''

Only that this one may end with Roush winning a championship.