When Matt Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing to join Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season, it was hailed as a win-win for JGR and Team Penske.
JGR improved measurably after Kenseth replaced Joey Logano, and Penske improved a like amount by picking up Logano, who disappointed at JGR but has since become a bona fide championship threat.
Lost in the win-win narrative was that Roush Fenway actually got worse with Kenseth’s departure and subsequent replacement with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. And with the news Sunday that Carl Edwards is leaving Roush — almost certainly to join JGR next year — RFR could take another huge hit.
In 2011, RFR drivers Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Edwards combined for four victories (David Ragan also won once in a now-defunct fourth team car), 34 top-five and 56 top-10 finishes. In 2012, the final year the three were together at RFR, Kenseth, Biffle and Edwards totaled five victories, 28 top fives and 53 top 10s.
Last year, RFR’s lineup of Biffle, Edwards and Stenhouse had just three victories, 14 top fives and 32 top 10s. One race past the halfway point of 2014, these three have two victories (both by Edwards), seven top fives and 17 top 10s.
By comparison, last year JGR had 12 victories, 32 top fives and 51 top 10s. And that was a season that saw Denny Hamlin injured and reduced to the role of in-race test driver for much of the second half of the season.
With a 24th-place finish in Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Stenhouse moved past girlfriend Danica Patrick to move up to 27th in the Sprint Cup points standings. Kenseth, the guy Stenhouse replaced, is fourth in points now.
Now look at the numbers between the departing Edwards and his replacement, Trevor Bayne. Edwards: 357 career Cup starts, 23 victories, 105 top fives and 181 top 10s. Bayne: 53 starts, one victory, one top five, three top 10s.
One last eye-opening stat: RFR’s 2012 drivers have a combined 73 Sprint Cup wins in their respective careers. RFR’s 2015 drivers have a combined 20 Cup victories, 19 of those from Biffle.
It is impossible to look at those numbers and come to any conclusion other than that RFR will be hurt badly by the defection of Edwards. Assuming Edwards lands at JGR, he has the opportunity to help the Toyota squad raise its game, just as Kenseth did last year.
Sunday morning in a curiously timed announcement of Edwards’ departure, team founder and co-owner Jack Roush pointed out, correctly, that his organization has successfully replaced veterans with young drivers before.
"It doesn’t look different than when Mark Martin stepped away and we were left with Greg and Carl to go forward," said Roush. "We’ve been in this business, as I said, for 27 years counting and we have made it our habit, our practice, our preference to bring drivers in. We’ve brought in 23 drivers that had never been part of NASCAR before and 19 of them are still in this sport and 17 of them have won races, so we’re pretty much on time."
Roush and his minions might well be able to replicate that success with a driver lineup of Biffle, Bayne and Stenhouse. But doing so likely will be a huge challenge, especially given the struggles the team is undergoing right now.
Looking ahead, that will be one of the key storylines entering the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
So will Edwards pursuing a championship with JGR.
Carl Edwards talks about his decision to move on from Roush Fenway Racing