By Matt Weaver (DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) — Jeff Burton spent nearly a full decade working under the Roush Fenway Racing banner in the late 90s and early 2000s when it was simply known as Roush Racing. During that time span, Burton won 17 races and was a consistent threat to win the championship beneath Jeff Gordon and teammate Mark Martin.
And while he experienced many high tides with the organization, he also experienced numerous struggles, leading the Sprint Cup veteran and NBC color commentator to believe that this is just a brief dip in the path for the storied NASCAR operation.
“Every team has its ups and downs,” Burton told Popular Speed over the phone on Friday morning. “The truth is that no team is immune. What’s unfortunate about this one is that it comes during a time when Carl Edward’s contract came up.
“When you miss on something and you don’t have speed in this sport, that can be awfully hard to overcome but they’ll pull through this because they always do.”
Burton hasn’t worked for Jack Roush since the summer of 2004 and he is still a semi-active participant in the Sprint Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing. As a result, he doesn’t have the inside scoop on the RFR’s struggles but has a rough idea of where the team is probably focusing their efforts at this point of the season.
“We know it’s not the engine,” Burton said. “Look at (Team) Penske and the success they are having this year. So if it isn’t horsepower, you’ve got to look at the aero and chassis — that’s where they are losing speed. They’ve set down a path this season that hasn’t quite worked out and they are having a hard time getting out of it.”
Burton has a point, especially upon looking at where they’ve struggled compared to where Edwards has won this season. Edwards took his No. 99 to Victory Lane at the Bristol short track and Sonoma road course, two venues where the driver has a lot more responsibility for success than anywhere else on the schedule.
It is on the intermediate speedways where all three Roush cars have struggled to find balance and speed and those tracks make up the bulk of the schedule.
Burton added that it is more difficult for teams in the Sprint Cup Series to understand, pursue and maintain speed than ever before due to the nuances of working in a more aerodynamically dependent era than ones that came before.
“In today’s world, it’s hard to understand why you don’t have speed,” Burton said. “The driver has a lot less input than ever before and I’ll tell you what — you don’t even know why you have speed more often than not. I don’t care what anyone says. Sometimes you just can’t explain it.”
Burton admitted that losing a driver the caliber of Matt Kenseth last season hurt but believes that one driver ultimately didn’t make a difference in the gradual decline in speed for Roush Fenway Racing.
“There are only a few things that drivers can provide to a team in regards to feedback in today’s NASCAR,” Burton said. “You need the driver to be comfortable and have a feel that he’s happy with but there is just so much that is out of the driver’s hands. I’m not even sure that Carl can provide it.”
Through the first 17 races, Edwards has two victories and is locked into the Chase at sixth in the standings while Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse are winless at 13th and 27th respectively and still hoping to earn a playoff berth over the next three months.