KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Jack Roush sat in the pitch black, the generator that powers the lights having overheated. Flickers of light illuminated his face in snapshots each time the tinted glass doors to Greg Biffle's hauler were opened and closed to the daylight Friday.
Every glimmer captured a frown, emphasizing just how perturbed the man was about the 25-point penalty that devalued his driver Carl Edwards' victory last week at Dover.
Edwards' No. 99 Ford measured too low in the right rear corner during the post-race inspection. Roush asserts NASCAR forgot to apply common sense in penalizing him for a deviation that disadvantaged Edwards rather than aided his third victory of the season.
Every racer knows, Roush said, that it would only be an advantage to have the rear of the car higher on a 'downforce track' such as Dover.
'It has taken my breath,' Roush said of the penalty. 'I've been doing this for 20 years, and from time to time, it seems NASCAR has to do something to take your breath.
'We looked back and for seven years of data that my guys were able to see, there was not an instance where somebody was penalized for having their cars disadvantaged by having low quarter-panels.'
Johnny Sauter and Kyle Busch caught 25-point penalties in July after the front of their cars measured too low at New Hampshire. Being low in the front could translate into a competitive advantage, though, especially if it changed the attitude of the car to get more of the rear spoiler into the air stream.
Rule's A Rule
NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton, a crafty crew chief in his former life, said his team can't be concerned about whether a deviation created an advantage. The issue is compliance.
'We give tolerances to run your race car in, and you have to be within those tolerances,' he said.
Roush shouldn't be so somber. His five-car armada has made a remarkable turnabout this year. Edwards, still only 28 points off the lead entering the third race of the Chase on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, looks strong enough to make a run at what would be a third championship since 2003 for the team now called Roush-Fenway Racing.
NASCAR's championship no longer is about who's the best over the seemingly endless nine-month season. If it were, Jeff Gordon would have his fifth title all but wrapped up, and everyone else could start pointing toward the 50th Daytona 500 next February. But the championship now is about who's peaking at the end, and Edwards surely is one of those.
Remember early in the year when Chevrolet won 13 of the first 14 races, and Roush's Fords - Matt Kenseth's victory at California in February notwithstanding - looked to be taking the year off? That's changed.
In recent weeks, Edwards has won at Bristol and Dover, finished second at California and was leading at Richmond when his engine blew. Kenseth, the other Roush-Fenway driver in the Chase, led almost half of the Dover race until his engine let go. Greg Biffle, a Roush driver outside the Chase, finished second at Dover.
Slow To Test
Roush attributes his slow start to obeying what he believed was a mandate from NASCAR to not do unsanctioned testing with the new Car of Tomorrow, while Hendrick Motorsports and others tested at non-sanctioned tracks with Goodyear tires saved from previous years or tires purchased from other vendors.
'I take responsibility for not reading NASCAR correctly and not taking advantage of what a wink and nod was by hording tires or buying other people's tires and testing my cars,' he said.
There's little sympathy for Roush about the penalty. Several top teams have been stung this year with biting penalties and suspensions, although Edwards' penalty is the first of this Chase.
'We got that penalty, so they can suck it up and deal with their penalty,' Kyle Busch popped.
With a little prodding, Roush acknowledges that his plight isn't so dire.
'If I can understand what the rules are, or what they don't cover, I'll be there,' he said. 'I'll be there, and I think we're in good shape for the championship that's in front of us.'