Jack Roush's Eye and Drive for Talent

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer ISeptember 27, 2008

Carl Edwards used to hand out business cards for an opportunity to race. He's now a Nationwide Series champion and the current Sprint Cup points leader.

Kurt Busch was the brash youngster who liked to go head-to-head with the veterans. He's now a Sprint Cup champion.

David Gilliland was once a no-name driver in the Nationwide Series who pulled an upset victory at Kentucky in 2006. He's now a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series for Robert Yates.

The fact that all three are currently competing in the Cup Series is not the only thing they have in common.

They're in company with Justin Allgaier, Erik Darnell, Danny O'Quinn, David Ragan, Regan Smith and Todd Kluever as drivers who have competed on the Jack Roush "Gong Show" and found success in NASCAR.

NASCAR owner Jack Roush started The Roush Racing Gong Show, later known as Driver X, as a way to search for potential drivers.

The competition not only involved test sessions on the race track, like Martinsville and Darlington, but also how they handled the media and their fan appeal.

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"The idea for the gong show came when we realized we needed to make selections of more than one driver in a fairly predictable time frame every two to three years. We started with road racing and identified several young, talented drivers," Roush said.

"Robby Gordon (now drives in Sprint Cup) was very successful in our road racing cars. We found Wally Dallenbach Jr. (a broadcaster for the NBC races) back in the mid-80’s and won a championship with him.

"We’ve been doing the competition since about 1985 and have not had a competition every year, but have had many since then."

The winner might be lucky enough to get a contract with one of Roush's teams.

In 2005, it was televised on the Discover Channel, and Erik Darnell captured the attention of Roush and the country. He won the competition and currently drives full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series for Roush.

He has one career win and finished second at Las Vegas last weekend to Mike Skinner by mere inches. He sits fourth in points with six events remaining.

He was also named the 2006 Truck Rookie of the Year.

Darnell is just one of the four winners from the Gong Show who have gone on to have successful careers.

In 1999, a kid from Las Vegas was chosen by Roush as the winner. Kurt Busch never looked back. He drove for Roush in the Cup Series from 2000 to 2005, winning 14 races and the series championship in 2004 before joining Penske Racing in 2006. He's currently 18th in points with one victory this season.

Next came Carl Edwards in 2002, and the business cards were no longer needed. After winning the competition, Roush put him in a truck ride full-time in 2003 with Superchips as a sponsor.

He won Rookie of the Year honors, four races in 2003 and 2004, and was chosen to replace Jeff Burton for 2005 and beyond.

He still drives for Roush, and entering Sunday's Camping World RV 400, he leads the point standings with eight weeks left.

Two years later, it was Todd Kluever who enjoyed the victory and then received a contract with Roush in the Nationwide Series.

He split seat time with Greg Biffle and picked up one pole position. He was the 2005 Rookie of the Year in Trucks but is currently jobless in 2008.

But it's not just the winners who get the call. Both David Gilliland and Regan Smith are competing full-time in the Cup Series, one for Robert Yates and one for Dale Earnhardt Inc., however not with the amount of success as their predecessors.

Danny O'Quinn and Justin Allgaier also competed but never landed top jobs. Allgaier is racing in the ARCA Remax Series for Penske and occasionally makes a Truck race.

O'Quinn did have a Nationwide ride with Roush in 2006 and earned Rookie of the Year and in 2007, he ran a partial schedule in the No. 17 car but to date has no ride.

Except have no fear; the next star is here.

In 2005, 20-year-old David Ragan competed on the show. By 2007, he was the Nationwide Rookie of the Year and tabbed as Mark Martin's replacement.

However, in 2007 Ragan also made news for being the driver involved in the most wrecks with 26 to his name, making some veterans upset.

Then in 2008 he came back in full force, finally clicking with crew chief Jimmy Fenning. The wrecks were few and far between, and consistency was found.

Soon they were fighting for a spot in the Chase all the way to Richmond before being locked out. Now the focus is on winning and stealing the show.

The same way Roush drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have in the 2008 Chase for the Championship.

The same way there's no denying that Jack Roush will continue to produce star race car drivers for years to come.

"I like drivers that have a keen competitive instinct. You can look them in the eyes and see how committed, focused, and determined they are to be competitive.

"If you have a choice between people who are equally competitive, then somebody who has a greater technical education is of more interest to me.

"It is certainly equally important that a person be marketable and have good communication skills.  I think those attributes are easier to acquire than technical skill and mechanical aptitude.

"Also, someone who can react in real-time contentious situations and be able to prevail.  How a person reacts to a competitive opportunity or a frustration and a setback will determine their ability to race for championships."

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