For his first 15 years in NASCAR’s top stock car series, Jack Roush spent tons of money, hired the best people he could find and tried in vain to win a Cup championship.

Mark Martin, the driver who came with Roush to what was then called Winston Cup in 1988, never quite made it to the top, finishing second four times, the last in 2002.

Roush, a mathematician, innovator and owner of a company that supplies parts to the automotive and transportation industry, sometimes waged verbal war with NASCAR’s rulesmakers and became bitter about several decisions that went against him over the years.

“I honestly never thought NASCAR was going to allow me to win a championship, no matter what I did,” Roush said after Matt Kenseth finally gave him a Cup title in 2003.

Now, with Kurt Busch having given Roush his second straight title last year and his powerful team off to a tremendous start in 2005, with eight wins in the first 15 races, some of his competitors are wondering if there’s any way to stop the five-car Roush Juggernaut.

Last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle, who has emerged as the sport’s newest star, won for the fifth time this season and the sixth time in 16 races, including the 2004 season finale.

Carl Edwards, in his first full season in Cup, won his second race of the year the previous week in Pocono, and the personable youngster quickly is finding a following in the sport.

Martin, Kenseth and Edwards finished third through fifth at Michigan, and Busch, who had run in the top 10 throughout the race, faded to 12th at the end.

Heading into Sunday’s Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., Biffle is second in the season points, trailing Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson by just 49 points, with Edwards fourth, Martin fifth, Busch, who also won a race earlier this season, ninth and Kenseth, who has struggled most of the season, 21st.

Martin, flashing some of his old-time talent and enthusiasm during his final full season in the Cup series, has an explanation for why the Roush team is running so well these days.

“It’s because we’ve got great engines right now and we’ve got great handling packages,” Martin said.

And there’s more.

“It’s only my opinion,” Martin added, “but I believe that Roush Racing has the hottest lineup of drivers in NASCAR, depth wise. We don’t have an off team right now, period. We’ve got great engines and great drivers and great crew chiefs.”

It would be hard for anybody to dispute that right now.

Rusty Wallace, a contemporary of Martin and also in his final Cup season, said, “Those Roush guys have got it figured out. That’s pretty obvious.”

If the 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship started right now, Roush would have four of the 11 cars eligible to race for the title. Last year, for the inaugural Chase, he had three – Busch, Martin and Kenseth.

Roush, 62, who won numerous championships in sports car racing before finding success in NASCAR, is relishing the roll his Cup teams are on.

“You never know how long it’s going to last and I’m going to make sure I feel good about it for as long as I can,” he said, grinning.

He credits the recent success to “really, really smart people” who are able to adapt to rule changes and new equipment faster than peers on other teams.

“They historically have done that,” Roush said. “Carl is the latest indication of that. He’s had very little experience with these cars and has moved right in and taken right over – much like Greg did and like Kurt Busch did before.

“I guess Mark Martin was the daddy of it, but we’ve got a culture of being pragmatic and looking at what’s in front of us and thinking about the things that we need to do – and that’s just the way we live, and the guys do very well.”

Biffle summed up the prevailing feeling among the Roush drivers.

“Man, I just feel so lucky to be able to be where I’m at driving these race cars and being able to win these races,” he said. “I just feel pretty special about it.”

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