‘It was brutal’: Roush Fenway Racing on mission to forget 2014
Of all the championship-capable teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, none had a worse year in 2014 than Roush Fenway Racing. A harsh assessment, perhaps, but an accurate one.
The team won just two races last season, tying its lowest total since 2001. Team Penske, which placed two drivers in the top five in Sprint Cup points, clearly supplanted Roush Fenway as the top team in the Ford camp, at least temporarily.
"It was brutal," said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark of the 2014 season.
And for the second time in three years, one of Roush Fenway’s star drivers defected to Joe Gibbs Racing. Matt Kenseth left the team after 2012, while this time it was Carl Edwards, who finished ninth in points, the only Roush Fenway driver to crack the top 10.
Ford Motor Co. reportedly lavished millions of dollars of stock options to keep Edwards in the Ford family during his previous contract negotiations, but this time around Edwards decided to move on. Losing the fan- and media-friendly driver was a huge blow for both Ford and Roush Fenway.
And coming on the heels of the loss of Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion, it leaves the team with Greg Biffle as the established veteran, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heading into his third full season and new kid on the block Trevor Bayne moving to Cup full-time for the first time in his career.
Over the offseason, Roush Fenway beefed up its technical help in a big way, hiring industry veterans Mark McArdle to oversee engineering, and Kevin Kidd as Sprint Cup team manager. Team founder and co-owner Jack Roush said the squad is up to about 45 full-time engineers.
As it turns out, the real source of Roush Fenway’s poor performance last year may have been software-related. Nowadays, every team uses sophisticated computer simulation software to replicate on-track conditions and help it set up cars. According to Newmark, the simulation program Roush Fenway used last year did not get the job done, so it’s been replaced with a new one.
"Talking to our competition guys, it was probably early last year that we recognized our simulation program wasn’t where it needed to be," said Newmark. "So we put the wheels in motion and the board authorized a pretty significant investment in a new simulation package probably last February or March. But the issue with these complicated software packages is it’s not like Microsoft Office where you install it and you turn it on. We’ve hired software simulations engineers to work on this, and that process has taken a while."
So why were the Penske Fords so fast last year and the Roush Fenway Fords so slow, comparatively?
"Each team generally has its own simulation package, and previously all the Ford teams were on a single package," Newmark said. "When Penske came over (in 2013) they had their own legacy program from Dodge and so that was an interesting study for us, kind of a rare case study where you can actually see you’re trying to identify an issue while they’re running a different simulation program and they seem to unload off the truck a lot faster than we do. So that helped us identify some of the shortcomings with our program."
Team co-owner Roush said a lot of work has also gone into improving the work environment.
"We repainted the floor, we repainted the walls," said Roush. "We’ve detoxed the people who add attitudes or frustrations that were not constructive, and we’re ready to go down the road."