Roush Fenway Racing has undoubtedly not reached Victory Lane as much as the organization hoped it would the past few seasons. Despite the occasional win, RFR hasn’t been able to consistently run with the Sprint Cup Series’ other elite programs.
Since losing the 2011 championship with Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker, Roush Fenway hasn’t seriously contended for a title.
In 2012, Edwards went winless, while Greg Biffle scored two wins and Matt Kenseth went to Victory Lane three times. But at the end of the season, Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing, where he would win seven times in 2013.
Since last season, RFR has won only five races, all while struggling to keep up with the increasingly tough competition level of the Sprint Cup Series.
Now, Roush Fenway is preparing for a 2015 season without Edwards, who is joining Kenseth at JGR, as Biffle assumes the clear leadership role among a three-driver lineup that also includes youngsters Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.
With RFR enjoying its best collective outcome of 2014 last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, where all three team drivers finished in the top 10, the company is cautiously optimistic looking toward the Chase, of which both Edwards and Biffle would be a part if the 10-race playoff began today.
According to Biffle, the struggles of the past few seasons have been a wake-up call and caused the organization to work hard to rectify the problems, but the veteran driver admits RFR was not always moving in the right direction.
"We let go of our guy who was the head of engineering a while back," Biffle said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "We don’t want to point fingers in our organization, but we plain and simply didn’t keep up with the Joneses. We got behind in simulation. We are still behind in simulation. We’re trying to roll out a new model that is gonna carry us on into the future and make us as equal as some of these other teams are.
"And, quite honestly, the 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 a wrong road on aerodynamics and our theory and balance and everything else," Biffle continued. "You can clearly see that it’s plain and simple we were headed kind of in the wrong direction and since we’ve kind of righted that ship, we’ve really woke up so to speak and saw what we were doing wrong. We don’t know everything yet, but we saw a lot of what we were doing wrong. Michigan is a perfect example. I had a 28th-place car at Michigan in the first race and that’s one of my best racetracks with four wins, and that was so devastating for us. We finished 20th, but literally had a 28th-place car and we go back there (in August) and we had a 10th-place car — a solid 10th-place car, maybe a little better than that. So that’s a huge swing."
Biffle doesn’t believe the team should celebrate running in the top 10 at Michigan — traditionally one of RFR’s best tracks — but says it was a "huge celebration within the organization" to begin moving in the right direction.
As RFR works to get back to the consistent competitiveness it once enjoyed, Biffle says the group is "still looking for a guy to help lead" the organization.
Long-time Roush man Mark Martin has returned as a driver development coach to help groom the younger drivers — including Bayne, Stenhouse, and Nationwide Series regulars Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed — and the veteran Martin’s input has already seemed to help.
Martin has been involved in team meetings and debrief sessions for some time now, and both Bayne and Buescher praised his contribution last weekend at Bristol.
Another change for Roush Fenway came during the 2012-2013 off-season when Team Penske joined RFR as part of the Ford Racing family. Since teaming with Ford, Team Penske has scored eight victories between its two drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Six of those wins have come this season.
Team Penske’s success has further highlighted RFR’s struggles, and likely played a role in Wood Brothers Racing’s recent decision to move its technical alliance from Jack Roush’s organization to Roger Penske’s for the 2015 season.
The in-house manufacturer rivalry has not been all bad, however, as Biffle pointed out Friday in Atlanta.
"It’s added to the frustration, but at the same time it’s given us the confidence that these cars are capable of that," he said of Team Penske’s success. "And Penske has helped us a ton. Penske has allowed us to compare our cars to their cars some, which has shed some light in some areas that maybe we needed to work, and they’re only gonna share so many things with us through our alliance with Ford, and we appreciate the help we’ve gotten from them. We’re looking at their cars more than the competition trying to figure out how to make cars the same because we have the same type of car.
"We’ll get there. Unfortunately, this season has felt frustrating for us. Now Carl is a helluva a driver and he’s put himself in position and won some races, but he’ll admit, too, that we’re not certainly where we need to be — competitive enough — but we’re getting there."
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