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Roush Crash Shadows Talladega Race

April 20, 2002

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ The crash of Jack Roush’s plane shadows Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. The accident also was a grim reminder of air crashes that took the lives of two Winston Cup drivers.

Roush was critically injured after the small plane he was piloting crashed in southeast Alabama.

He was being evaluated at UAB Hospital, spokeswoman Tracy Bischoff said. She added that Roush Racing and NASCAR would provide details during a news conference Saturday at the speedway.

Nobody from the Roush team was immediately available for comment.

The longtime NASCAR entrant has two cars entered in Saturday’s Busch Series event and four running in Sunday’s featured Aaron’s 499 on the 2.66-mile oval.

The accident recalled two other crashes involving Winston Cup racers.

Alan Kulwicki, the 1992 series champion, was killed in the crash of a private plane on the way to a race in Bristol, Tenn., in 1993. Davey Allison died when he crashed his helicopter on the Talladega Superspeedway property later that same year.

NASCAR drivers, owners and officials regularly crisscross the country in private planes to keep up with their schedules.

All four Roush drivers qualified Friday for Sunday’s race, with Mark Martin 19th, Kurth Busch 20th, Jeff Burton 25th and Matt Kenseth, a two-time winner this season, having to take a car-owner’s provisional for a 37th-place start in Sunday’s 43-car field.

It was a relatively disappointing showing for the reborn Roush team, which endured a rough 2001 season but goes into Sunday’s race with three drivers in the top 10 in points and Burton 11th.

In an interview with The Associated Press several weeks ago, Roush recalled last season, his 15th in NASCAR.

``I was so blue and so brokenhearted, I almost cried at the banquet,″ he said. ``I just could not stand to think that we had missed the opportunity to do better than we did.″

The revival started with a slight shake-up at Roush over the winter.

At Burton’s suggestion, Roush took Jimmy Fenning, a veteran crew chief who had been paired with Martin, and moved him to Busch’s team to turn things around after a mediocre rookie campaign.

Martin was assigned Ben Leslie and Burton and Kenseth’s teams were left intact.

``It was a tough year and when we looked over the winter, we said, ‘OK, what can we do to take all the elements we’ve got and put them together differently so that we can work better?’ `` Martin said.

It had all been working great so far this year.

``It feels like 2001 should have been,″ Roush said. ``I’m relieved that the process that we have _ and our structure and our morals and all the things that wind up holding our world together _ is working this year, and I don’t have to retire. I can keep doing this awhile.″

In Friday’s qualifying, rookie Jimmie Johnson won his second pole of the season with a lap of 186.532 mph, leading a sweep of the top four spots by Chevrolets.

Robby Gordon, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the race at this track last fall, followed Johnson. Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, Jeff’s older brother, was fifth in a Dodge, while rookie Ryan Newman in eighth was the fastest of the Ford drivers.

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