ROUSH STRUGGLES CONTINUE — While Carl Edwards scored a surprise victory Sunday on the Sonoma Raceway road course, the woes of Roush Fenway Racing resumed when the team unloaded at the Kentucky Speedway for this Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. During practice No. 1 Friday, Greg Biffle was only 26th fastest, Edwards 28th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 29th. It didn’t get a whole lot better in the final Happy Hour session, where Stenhouse was 23rd, Edwards 28th and Biffle 31st.
Stenhouse said the team is doing its best to address its myriad shortcomings.
"I think we’re missing a lot of things," said Stenhouse, who comes into Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 a disappointing 27th in points, just one position ahead of girlfriend Danica Patrick. "The problem is that it’s not just one thing that we’ve missed it on, but everybody at the shop is working really hard. We’ve changed a lot. Jack (Roush) has put a lot of money into testing. We’ve gone and tested a lot. We’ve still got some more tests planned. "
According to Stenhouse, there’s plenty of responsibility to spread around for the team’s lack of performance at fast tracks, something that used to be its specialty.
I think we’re missing a lot of things. The problem is that it’s not just one thing that we’ve missed it on. …
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"I think we’ve missed it as a team, as a No. 17 team at race tracks," Stenhouse said. "I’ve missed it as a driver when we’ve had decent cars. … I think at times we’ve got the right pieces and we’ve just got to put them all in our race car and make sure we don’t make mistakes. But Jack is definitely working really hard at making sure that the pieces that we’re bringing to the race track are better than they have been."
Biffle sounded a somewhat more optimistic note.
"We’ve certainly crossed the corner," said Biffle. "Done a lot of testing. It’s getting better and better."
Still, qualifying was humbling for the Roush Fenway squad. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano swept the front row for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400, while Stenhouse qualified 21st, Edwards 23rd and Biffle 24th.
"I think we got everything we could out of it for qualifying and we just have to go to work right now," said Edwards. "Jimmy (Fennig, crew chief) and the guys have the right attitude. There’s nothing we can do about qualifying. We just have to work hard to try to make it the best we can for tomorrow night. Anything can happen. We know it. They’ve got some ideas they want to try and hopefully it works."
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF — Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team traveled to the White House earlier this week, with President Barack Obama comparing the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion to National Basketball Association legend Michael Jordan.
"Yeah, it was a surreal moment standing on stage next to him (President Obama) and hearing him reference or compare me to Michael Jordan, with the six championships I assume is where he was going with that, and hear our foundation mentioned and all the hard work that we’ve put in there," Johnson said. "I didn’t know what his speech would be. But to hear him go through and articulate with great detail, the things that we’ve accomplished as a team on and off the track and what the foundation has done, I sat there with goose bumps, head to toe just hearing all that stuff. It was pretty neat."
Johnson had been to the White House on numerous occasions before, but this was his first trip with his entire team, which meant a lot to him.
"To have my team there was the difference," said Johnson. "Before, you were walking around with the other drivers and it was a great experience and fun, but to actually share those moments and watch the tour take place and all those fresh faces that are my teammates; and hear the story, go to all those different rooms, meet different Secret Service folks, it was fun."
Johnson said the Hendrick squad was treated to a first-class experience.
"They hosted a very nice lunch for us in a private dining hall, which they said was the second most famous dining hall in the world," said Johnson. "The first would be the President’s private space. We were able to share and experience a lot of things together and that really was the difference."
NUMBER CRUNCHING — It’s been a bizarre first season at Richard Childress Racing for veteran driver Ryan Newman, who comes into Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway eighth in points. Barring a major collapse over the next 10 races, Newman appears to be in great shape to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Newman is the only driver in the top 17 in points who doesn’t have at least two top-five finishes. In fact, Newman doesn’t have any top fives this year, which is highly unusual. The reason he’s where he is in points is that he has finished in the top 20 a total of 14 times in the first 16 races of the season. He has consistency, but needs more speed.
"This is probably the best worst season I’ve had as far as just not having the ultimate numbers," Newman said Friday afternoon at the Kentucky track. "Our average is good, which is still a part of getting yourself into the Chase if there are not 16 winners. So, we have to win. We want to win. If you’re going to win the championship, you’re probably going to have to win something. I don’t see that the winner of the championship doesn’t have a race victory under his belt."