Jack Roush left Richmond with a feeling of emptiness.
Ironically, Roush Fenway Racing was the catalyst for the Chase format. In 2003, @MattKenseth clinched the title with a substantial points lead — one week before the season ended at Homestead. He claimed a single victory.
Biffle, Roush Fenway’s elder statesman, and the veteran driver sits in the 19th position in the point standings. He also had a disappointing finish in the final race of the season at Richmond, taking the checkered flag in 31st, four laps down to the leader.
Biffle has had only two top-5 finishes this season, both of which involved fuel-mileage strategies. His winless streak has now stretched well beyond two years.
The other two Roush Fenway drivers, Trevor Bayne, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. not only failed to qualify for the Chase but flounder in the 28th and 29th points positions respectively.
Bayne’s resume lacks substance. While this is his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup series, he’s run sporadically for the Wood Bros. However, in 84 races he has scored just one top-five; the 2011 Daytona 500.
Comparatively, Stenhouse Jr., who won back-to-back XFINITY titles for RFR in 2011 and 2012, has run 97 races and finished in the top-five only three times with no wins.
While Biffle put the punctuation mark on a season where he was quoted as saying that his team was ‘dying a slow death’, both Stenhouse and Bayne remained a little more optimistic, feeling that they could take some of their learning into the final ten races of the season.
Stenhouse finished the Federated Auto Parts 400 by gambling at the end on old tires to finish 16th. Bayne took the checkered flag in the 23rd position.
“We just needed a caution there at the end to get us back on the lead lap,” Stenhouse said. “Our Cargill Beef/Sam’s Club Ford didn’t fire off really good but as the run progressed our car was really good. We really needed this finish after the past couple of weekends. We have 10 races remaining and hopefully we can get a win.”
“Our AdvoCare Ford was pretty quick on the long run,” said Bayne after the race. “We were able to make up some ground on some guys during those long stretches that really helped us. We’ll take this finish and move on to Chicago and see what we can do there.”
Optimism notwithstanding, the fact that one of the powerhouse teams in the sport will not be represented in the Championship hunt is definitely worthy of head-shaking.
Even more unsettling is the fact that two former Roush Fenway Racing drivers, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, both handily qualified for the Chase, with Kenseth punctuating his Chase berth with a win at Richmond. Remember that Kenseth’s Championship in 2003 was the catalyst for the original Chase format.
Given that both former Roush Fenway drivers have found success, while the current stable of drivers fell well outside Chase contention this year, it is interesting to speculate about just how and when the downhill slide started for RFR.
Obviously, there have been major changes throughout the sport in the last few years, from rules packages to horsepower to engineering challenges. However, it may just be that the leadership vacuum created when Matt Kenseth chose to leave his Roush Fenway team in 2013 has contributed to the downward spiral for RFR.
And while Kenseth may have struggled a bit last year, this season with Joe Gibbs Racing he has not only secured a Chase spot but has four wins and three poles on his resume so far thus far in the 26 races of 2015.
Similarly, Carl Edwards, while still at Roush Fenway Racing, secured a Chase berth but failed to get anywhere near the coveted Sprint Cup Championship. He too then followed his former teammate Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he is in the Chase by virtue of his two wins, one as recent as Darlington.
“I mean, who could ignore what Matt Kenseth did last year?” Edwards said when he decided to leave Roush Fenway Racing. “Who could ignore what Joey Logano has done (in moving from JGR to Team Penske, also in 2013)? … Look at Kevin Harvick’s success (in moving from RCR to Stewart-Haas Racing this season). It appears making a change sometimes gets some things going.”
After a disappointing season in not making the Chase, Jack Roush may now be looking to make some changes to get the team back into contention.
But until then the owner, with his telltale hat, remained seemingly balanced when looking at the remainder of the 2015 season, even while not having a presence in the Championship Chase.
“We’ve been in Cup racing now for 28 years,” team owner Jack Roush said. “We’ve had times when we had the hot hand and the combination that everyone else wished they understood or could have. There have been times we have lacked that.
“All of my programs have potential. There were races we certainly (Biffle) could have won and there have been many other races that we have had streaks of brilliance throughout the race, where a flat tire or something else has happened to our disadvantage and taken us out. I am not going to give up.”
The success of a NASCAR team is based primarily on the strengths of the people. Losing your two marquis drivers in consecutive years has hampered their progress and sustainability. It’s going to be a long road for Roush Fenway to get back into Championship form.