Roush Fenway Racing used to dominate at Michigan International Speedway, the track that’s practically in the backyard of both Roush Industries and Ford Motor Company, the organization’s long-time manufacturer of choice. Here, Roush Fenway has won 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, more than any other team in history.
But during the first MIS race this season, the team was embarrassed. Badly.
How pitiful was the Roush Fenway performance in June? It was the first time in 27 races at MIS dating back to August 2000 that not a single one of the team’s Fords finished in the top 10. In fact, the best run from the team’s three drivers in the June race was Greg Biffle’s 20th-place finish. And neither Biffle, a four-time MIS winner, nor teammates Carl Edwards (two wins here) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led even a single lap.
For team founder and co-owner Jack Roush, getting humiliated in his own back yard was an unacceptable state of affairs. So the team went back to the drawing board, burning one of its four tests permitted annually per NASCAR regulations at MIS in preparation of Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
The improvement showed Friday, where Edwards was second in the day’s only round of practice, with Stenhouse fifth and Biffle eighth at the end of the one hour, 20 minute session.
The good news continued in qualifying, where all three Roush Fenway Fords advanced to the third and final round of qualifying, with Edwards qualifying third, Stenhouse 10th and Biffle 11th.
It wasn’t the pole, but it was a much-improved performance for the team.
Edwards, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Friday, said the team was not about to be embarrassed again.
"We came and tested here," said Edwards, who is in his final year with the team. "Just walking through the garage you see people wearing Roush t-shirts. There are a lot of people here from Roush Industries. The Ford folks come here. … For us, there is no place where there is more pride in winning as a driver for Roush Fenway. From the performance side, the first race here we were not the way we needed to be. We have hopefully stepped it up. If there is a Roush Fenway driver standing in victory lane it will be the biggest win of the year for our team."
Still, he was pleased with the obvious improvement.
"I believe that at this point it looks like we did the right thing," Edwards said after qualifying Friday afternoon. "I feel like we have a very fast car here. It shows us that we are doing the right things. We are working on things and it is paying off. The race is another story but we will enjoy this today. It has been a lot of work for a lot of people. Hopefully we just keep moving forward. We have been making progress and this is a good step."
His teammates agreed.
"It is nice to see these Fords up front a little bit," said Stenhouse. "It has been awhile since we were able to put our Fusion in the final round and it was nice to do that here at Michigan and it is nice to start the weekend off on the right note. Obviously we would like to be a bit higher up the board, but I will take it."
Biffle called the day a "huge improvement" for Roush Fenway.
"It is a start," said the veteran, who will be one of the favorites on Sunday. "We still have some to go and I don’t know exactly where the rest of it is at but we will keep working on it and see where we end up."
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