Coming into Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, it appeared Roush Fenway Racing had turned around its poor June results at the 2-mile track located in the proverbial backyard of Ford and Roush Industries.
The organization’s three drivers — Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — showed speed all weekend, with all three cars qualifying in the top 11.
However, once the green flag flew on the Pure Michigan 400, the promising weekend went away in nearly an instant.
Despite starting third and being fast all weekend, Edwards struggled mightily from the start of the race. Battling a loose car in the early stages, Edwards was unable to keep up with the leaders and fell through the pack.
Things went from bad to worse for the No. 99 team late in the race when Edwards hit pit road. The team was forced to come back down pit road to tighten loose lug nuts on the left rear. After the lugs were tightened, Edwards then stalled the car leaving his pit stall and eventually rejoined the race 26th, two laps down.
As if that was not enough, the No. 99 team was hit with a penalty for having too many men over the wall on Lap 162. Despite being confident heading into the weekend, Edwards finished the day a disappointing 23rd, two laps down.
While Biffle called his 10th-place "a great day," because he improved on his 20th-place June result, the finish was not where many expected the driver who was fifth in final practice to run on Sunday.
While the Roush Fenway teams appear to still be a step or two behind this season’s top-performing organizations, despite RFR entering the weekend on the heels of a July test at MIS, Biffle was upbeat.
"You know, I guess it was a good day," said Biffle. "We got a top-10. Really we wanted to run up in the top-five. We had a car to do that, and that track position (but) we would get loose around other cars. We still have to work on that with our race cars. We get around other cars and can’t drive them as good. It was a great day for us because we had a lot more speed than last time here. I lost the handle the last quarter of the race. I feel like we had a top-five car but the last quarter of the race the track started to slicken up and guys came on hard like the 15 (Clint Bowyer) and other guys. We have worked really hard and been off all year. It is a huge improvement for us."
For sophomore driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the 15th-place finish — which he called "a good solid top-15 finish" and "kind of a goal" — was five spots behind where he started Sunday’s race.
"We qualified 10th and finished 15th and ran right around 15th the whole time which is kind of a goal," said Stenhouse. "Obviously we want to run top-10 and pass as many cars as we can, but all in all we accomplished what we were looking to do. Our Zest Ford Fusion needs to get better still but I think we made some gains on it this weekend."