News & Media

Rodman: End of drought only a momentary relief for Yates

February 19, 2012, Dave Rodman,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Roush Yates Engines back on front row of Daytona 500 for first time since '07

Four years of Daytona qualifying failure had weighed heavily on Roush Yates Engines' head man Doug Yates. But anyone would have been hard-pressed to tell that Sunday on Daytona International Speedway's pit road.

A review of Roush Yates' achievements in the eight years the company's existed -- front row sweeps in 2004, 2007 and now in 2012 -- make it nearly impossible to digest that since Yates Racing's two cars swept the front row in 2007, there hadn't been a Ford in either front row spot.

Dual threats

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle set the tone for Roush Fenway and a contingent of Fords in Daytona 500 qualifying, with pole-sitter Edwards and Biffle claiming the front row.

You would have never known that, watching Yates on Sunday.

Yates, per his usual milieu, had his head in the game as he visited with the Ford teams using his company's engines in qualifying for the 54th Daytona 500. He finally sat on the pit wall opposite the head of the line to wait. And the wait was a weight, for sure.

Qualifying at Daytona -- a warm-up lap and then two laps at speed at an average of around 50 seconds apiece -- is ponderous at best. The fact that pole winner Carl Edwards had gone out fifth and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle ninth, slotting into second when he did, didn't make it any easier.

And so Yates, a stopwatch in his hand and his eyes shielded by a pair of stylish shades, sat -- seemingly as serene as a pond in the middle of a dense forest.

Only when the 49th and final car made its qualifying run for Sunday's Daytona 500 -- and it failed to knock either of RFR's two cars off the front row -- did the small group of RYE employees that had come to the end of pit road to surround their brilliantly-grinning boss, light up like million-watt light bulbs.

A few moments later, Yates was his cool-and-calm self, as he reflected on just what the achievement meant.

"It's really awesome, really special and I have to thank Ford Motor Company for all their support and Jack Roush -- what a great partner," Yates said. "We just love to come to Daytona and race, but really, I'm [happiest] for all the people from Roush Yates that have put their heart and soul into this. I'm just blessed to have that team of people that make all this happen."

There was no dodging what it meant in the face of the gap that existed since 2007. And Yates knew it.

"To me, [2007] was a special Daytona because that was my dad's last season," Yates said of pole winner David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd sweeping the front row. "To finally get back there ... because every year we come down here, this is our goal. We love Daytona and we all work hard.

"This is our Super Bowl and this is a very special place, so for our guys to come down here and sweep the front row is just an awesome day."

Yates' chief at-track engine tuner, Mike Messick, has also been a part of all three sweeps -- but also the past four goose eggs. He smiled as he took a break from standing inside a wheel well as he helped disassemble engines for post-qualifying inspection.

"It gets frustrating," Messick said. "And it definitely drives you to work better on your stuff -- it drives everybody who works on these cars to do better, from the engine shop to the fabricators."

Yates was smiling when he said it, but there was no mistaking the emotion.

"Every year that you don't [sit on the front row] it's just painful, you know, because you come down here, you strive to do your best and you work all winter long," Yates said. "And when you don't do what you came here to do, it just makes you work harder."

Messick was even blunter.

"It makes you so mad and frustrated," he said. "But then you understand, these things run in cycles -- almost everything in this sport does. And don't forget, we only [restrictor] plate race four times a year. It may take you two or three years of working to optimize your stuff, and then it's your turn at the top of the cycle."

This is the third consecutive season that a single organization has swept the Great American Race's front row. But it was Hendrick Motorsports that did it in 2010, with pole winner Mark Martin and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and last year, with Earnhardt on the pole and Jeff Gordon second.

Even with Sunday's success, there's virtually no break. Messick said one of Roush Fenway's jet airplanes sat at Daytona Beach International Airport, waiting for all the crew to arrive. They would fly back to North Carolina "because we've got Phoenix stuff to work on," Messick said. "They'll get one day off, work one day and then come back down here [for next Wednesday's next practices]."

"We're going to go home because we took our Shootout engines home from [Saturday] night because that was our Daytona 500 package," Yates said. "We're going to go home and look at all of those parts and get ready for next week and make some adjustments if we have to.

"But the beauty of the fuel injection is we actually have data now, so we can look at everything and really understand what the engine's doing and make some adjustments."

And smiles all around will certainly make that process go a lot easier.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.