Roush Fenway looks to rebuild after rough 2014 season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Roush Fenway Racing enters a season of rebuilding following a self-described ”brutal” 2014 that included just two Sprint Cup wins and top driver Carl Edwards defection to Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the year.
Although RFR placed two cars in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, the organization failed to win in the second-tier then-Nationwide Series and team president Steve Newmark said the company fell well short of expectations. There were organizational changes this offseason, he said.
”If you had walked through the halls of Roush Fenway during the latter part of last season, there would have been a high level of dissatisfaction,” Newmark said Wednesday at NASCAR’s annual media tour. ”We set goals for ourselves and didn’t meet them.”
Edwards won both Cup races for RFR last season and reached the third round of the Chase before being eliminated.
Greg Biffle qualified for the Chase on points, but was ousted in the first round. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t even make it that far with his second season at RFR turning out worse than his first.
”As the season kept going, we kept sliding and sliding,” Stenhouse said. ”We were glad the season came to an end so we could stop sliding.”
Newmark said that led to plenty of soul searching – and changes – trying to figure out how to get back on top.
Bob Osborne, who helped Edwards win 18 Cup races between 2004 and 2012, has returned to RFR as crew chief for Trevor Bayne, who replaces Edwards and will drive the No. 6 Ford.
Also, Nick Sandler, former lead engineer under Jimmy Fennig on the No. 99 team of Edwards, will be the crew chief for Stenhouse’s No. 17 team. Greg Puccia will remain crew chief for veteran Biffle and the No. 16 car.
Newmark said more money has been invested in the operation in an effort to produce better results.
”We felt like we weren’t giving the drivers the equipment they needed to succeed,” Newmark said. ”We had talented drivers, but we weren’t giving them the equipment to maximize their talent.”
Biffle will look to provide some needed stability at RFR, which also lost Matt Kenseth following the 2012 season. Biffle said with only limited testing allowed by NASCAR this offseason it has been an agonizing few months for an organization eager to get back on the track.
But he believes that may be a blessing in disguise as it gave RFR a chance to look at ”where we made the wrong turn in the road.”
”We have some new people in and when you are racing every week and trying to do this and testing and over at Nashville and doing all these things, you are looking at the problem down low,” Biffle said. ”It wasn’t until we got up higher and really looked at the landscape we decided we made some wrong decisions back possibly over a year ago on the direction with our cars.”
Biffle said the team has found things they’ve done wrong in the past and begun to correct them. Team owner Jack Roush was particularly disappointed with his team’s performance on 1 1/2- and two-mile tracks last year, traditionally a strength for RFR teams.
As for losing Edwards, Roush compared it to free agency in the NFL and NBA.
”This sport has changed and it has taken on the vestiges of other big-time entertainment where people move around to earn some money and sometimes to improve on chemistry,” Roush said. ”I think he just wanted to try his luck elsewhere.”
How long it will take for RFR to resurface as a top competitive team remains to be seen.
”I don’t think there is a magic bullet or some elixir that all of a sudden is going to come out, but it will come out over time,” Newmark said. ”Whether it manifests itself at Atlanta or Texas, I think you’re going to see improvement on the intermediate tracks. … We will have to have some patience, but we will come out with some improvement.”