With driver contracts and sponsorships up for renewal, RFR’s future hinges on the progress the organization makes this season. Success on the race track will be the impetus for retaining top talent and attracting A-list racers for years to come.
The responsibility for putting together the pieces of the Roush puzzle lies with 40-year-old Steve Newmark, RFR’s new president.
Newmark assumed the role of president from 13-year Roush Fenway Racing veteran Geoff Smith in December. The transition appears to have been seamless.
Newmark, formerly with the law firm of Robinson, Bradshaw and Hinson in Charlotte, entered Roush Fenway Racing last April as senior vice president of business operations. Newmark’s experience in NASCAR prior to his new position is well documented. He was instrumental in the mergers of both Roush Fenway and Gillett Evernham during his tenure at RBH.
Newmark’s background in entertainment law will serve him well as he faces the immediate challenges of signing marquee drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle as well as locking down 3M, Aflac and UPS.
“It’s kind of a slow and steady process,” Newmark said. “We’re having discussions. It’s our hope and expectation that we’ll keep both in Fords and in the Roush camp. But there’s nothing final at this point.”
At 31, Edwards is one of the most valuable properties in racing. He’s a proven winner and continually attracts sponsors to his brand. There’s not another driver in the Roush stable with Edwards’ marketability or long-term potential.
And Edwards, who is second in the point standings, has made it clear that his primary desire is to win championships.
“I’ve said to anyone that would listen, the great thing about Carl is that he’s a true competitor,” Newmark said. “His primary goal is to win and to win championships. So we have to continue to demonstrate that we have the equipment and the infrastructure to do that.
“Obviously, if you look at our history, Jack Roush has always had that consistency. That’s part of why the partnership with Carl has worked so well up to this point. We had a well documented blip last year, but overall the fact that we have fast cars and there’s a commitment. Everything that Jack Roush does and that John Henry does is designed solely in building fast race cars. I think that’s consistent with Carl’s views in how NASCAR should work.”
After the company went 21 races last season before its first victory — ending a 24-race winless streak — Biffle powered the No. 16 Ford back into Victory Lane. Biffle won again eight races later, and Edwards capped off the season with consecutive victories in the final two races on the schedule.
The consistency the teams have exhibited in the first four races on four distinctly different race tracks is proof that last year’s comeback was no fluke.
Want speed? Roush Fenway Racing’s Edwards and Matt Kenseth are responsible for winning three of the first four pole positions this season.
Want consistency? Fords have been in striking distance in every race this season. Trevor Bayne won the opener at Daytona holding off Edwards. The following race at Phoenix, Edwards had the best car but was wrecked in the early stages by Kyle Busch. Edwards came back the following week and won at Las Vegas, then finished second to Busch last week at Bristol.
Want performance? Despite Biffle’s fueling issues at Las Vegas, the 3M Pit Bulls have made a nice recovery. While Edwards’ No. 99’s crew spent the least amount of time on pit road last Sunday, Biffle’s team was fifth and Kenseth’s crew seventh.
Certainly, having the competition department hold up its end of the deal will simplify Newmark’s tasks in the near future. And Newmark is quick to give credit where it is due.
“It’s clearly what the guys are doing in the shop with (general manager) Robbie Reiser, then Doug Yates making the engines fast,” Newmark said. “They really have focused on improving speed since we had the little bit of a hiccup with the simulation last year. These guys have been working on it 24/7, and it’s good to see the fruits of their labor out on the track.”
During the offseason, Roush aligned engineering manager Chris Andrews with Bayne and the Nationwide Series program. Chip Bolin, who had been team engineer for Kenseth, assumed Andrews’ role and oversees the engineering programs for the Sprint Cup squads.
Overall, there appears to be a greater sense of unity among the four Cup teams with a better flow of information internally and to other organizations in the Ford camp.
“You always strive to improve any organization, and Robbie Reiser really has taken on a greater leadership role and has continued to rally the troops,” Newmark said. “The whole Ford camp, with the cooperation with R.P.M. (Richard Petty Motorsports) and the Wood Brothers, all of that helps us build faster race cars.”
Newmark is optimistic regarding the promise of his Nationwide Series racers Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, as well. He’s watched both youngsters mature over the past year. Despite Bayne’s uncertainty regarding a sponsored ride in the All-Star race, Newmark says there are no current plans to provide their driver with a car.
“It’s not anything we’ve had discussions about,” Newmark said. “We’re focused on having Trevor run in Nationwide and try to compete with he and Ricky to win the championship. We’re hopeful that the Wood Brothers will figure out a way to get Trevor in the All-Star race, but we haven’t had any discussions about putting him in any of our vehicles.”