Roush Fenway Racing was once Ford’s flagship team in NASCAR Cup racing. Mark Martin rose to prominence here, and was a perennial contender in the 90s. Jeff Burton enjoyed his finest hours driving the 99 car before Carl Edwards came to town. Greg Biffle has had his share of success for Roush Fenway. Carl Edwards finished as runner-up at the Cup level in 2008 and 2011. Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch won championships for the man popularly known as the “Cat In The Hat” in 2003 and 2004. Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned championships for RFR not so many years ago.
Edwards and Kenseth are gone. Success at the Cup level has proven elusive for Stenhouse, and Roger Penske has surpassed Roush as the top Cup level team bearing the blue oval. 2014 was not a banner year for RFR. The effervescent Edwards was the lone driver to capture wins, and yet never seemed like a bona fide contender for the championship, Biffle achieved nowhere near the success he had enjoyed in previous years, and Stenhouse? He’s made more headlines for his girlfriend than for his driving. It’s a long fall from the top.
Much like what you see in the NFL, the level of competition is so stiff in NASCAR, within a season, you will see teams that once looked suddenly decline, or you will see a team make a sudden run to the top. The wrench turners at the shop are perpetually examining ways to improve performance and endeavor to find all the speed those machines can possibly muster, and trying to produce that winning set up. The forces working against you are such, that competing in NASCAR is a lot like marriage: every day you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards.
RFR’s Greg Biffle once told FOX Sports that Roush Fenway Racing “simply didn’t keep up with the Joneses” and that “worse we ran, the harder we worked, the more we tested, the more meetings we had, the worse we ran, because we were pushing down the wrong road on aerodynamics and our theory and balance and everything else.” The one-time truck series and Busch Series champion- generally a top-ten contender- fell off to 14th in points, and was won just one race in the last two seasons, mirroring RFR’s futility.
Behind the scenes, there are changes galore at Roush Fenway. Mark McArdle and Kevin Kidd will lend their talents to engineering to management. McArdle says the team needs an overarching “strategic view.” In NASCAR’s competitive landscape that features super teams like Penske, like Hendrick Motorsports and like Joe Gibbs Racing, the old days of loading the care up on a trailer and towing it to the track on the back of a pick-up truck are long gone. It’s not enough to have one Smokey Yunick-type in the garage, you need a team of motorheads to analyze and chart a course for racing success. Bob Osbourne- Carl Edwards’ crew chief during his best days at Roush- will return to the top of the pit box to guide young Trevor Bayne in his maiden voyage at the Cup level for RFR. Nick Sandler will work in the same capacity for Stenhouse, and at the Xfinity level, veteran Elliott Sadler and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. join the organization as drivers.
At this moment, you have to give Roush Fenway Racing credit for one thing: they’re not just sitting back and idly watching their team do a slow fade into history. The question now is one of if they are asking the right questions to achieve the right answers against a back drop of changes to the rules package at the Cup level. Not only are teams changing, NASCAR is perpetually changing. Because competition has a way of bringing out the best in a sport, one can only hope for a bounce back for one of NASCAR’s enduring organizations.