Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Looks To Continue Overcoming Odds in Championship Quest

LAS VEGAS — A driver that missed the playoffs and would lose his ride, and land with a team that even with two drivers, finished 29th in the owner standings a year ago, is back in the playoffs in 2019.

This is the story of Ryan Newman and the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team.

A collective unit that many may have counted out before the season have proven themselves as legit contenders after they outraced Stewart-Haas’ Daniel Suarez and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson to make the 16-car playoff field.

So, what does this all mean to the “Rocket Man”?

“Well, the ultimate goal for this year, no matter what anybody else thought was just to win a championship. So this is a big step for us to have an opportunity and to get back, for me personally, into the playoffs,” Newman told POPULAR SPEED. “To have that opportunity, because my ultimate, personal goal is to be a champion. You know, I feel satisfied because of that, but I don’t feel overwhelmingly satisfied because we haven’t won, we haven’t proved to be a dominant car, and we haven’t led a bunch of laps, so we have to do a better job and I accept that task and look forward to it.”

While it is a huge opportunity ahead of him and his team, Newman said it himself that he needs to better, knowing very well that a stat line of one top-five and nine top-10’s will likely not be enough for a championship.

So, that being said, what will Newman need to do in order to become more of a contender?

“Just be the best person that I can be on and off the racetrack. I mean, that’s all I can do,” Newman said. “It’s just a matter of our team, our organization, everybody doing as much as they can to help. And you know, that’s what we’ve been doing, but we’ve got to do a better job and we can just collectively work together better. All of us at Roush Fenway.”

Newman has proven to excel at the underdog role though, just look at 2014. 

There were five drivers with four or more wins, and only two of them made the Championship 4. Newman, who had no wins, was able to sneak his way in and nearly came away with one of the biggest surprises in NASCAR’s history, coming up just one spot short of the title.

In fact, at 41 years of age and having driven 18 full seasons, it is no secret that Newman is one of the most seasoned drivers in the playoff field but is this an advantage?

“No, because Jimmie Johnson was before the last race, and he’s no longer here,” Newman said. “So, I don’t think that experience necessarily parlays into becoming a champion. It should help, but it proved to not.”

Newman will start the playoffs in the 16th with no playoff points at his disposal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Bubba Wallace Continues Consistent Runs Despite Sponsorship Worries

As sponsorship woes continue to lurk in the background, Darrell Wallace Jr. remained near the top of the XFINITY Series class of competitors following another strong finish at Dover International Speedway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver picked up his first stage win of the season at the “Monster Mile”, battling with Ryan Blaney at the end of Stage 2 to take the green-checkered flag. Gearing up for the final segment, different pit strategies shuffled Wallace Jr. to the 16th spot, but he continued to battle back. Wallace Jr. would finish eighth, finding a way to his seventh top-ten of the season.

Despite a solid run, Wallace Jr. tweeted, “One day, all the stars will line up for us. Heartbreaking run. Thanks for the love.” Frustration is understandable, as he has yet to pick up a victory in his third full-time season in the XFINITY Series. Although Saturday’s performance fell short of victory, the team’s confidence and momentum gained from this weekend should carry them to their ultimate goal.

The pressure on Wallace Jr. to perform is as high as ever, as the team is in week to week operations due to limited sponsorship.

With a charismatic personality and a large social media following, Wallace Jr. is a prize for a company to rally behind. But, it has not been enough to secure the funding necessary to compete full-time starting as early as Michigan in two weeks.

It is unfortunate for Wallace Jr. as this season has largely been an improvement in results. He is only two top-ten finishes behind last season’s mark of nine in just 11 races. His average finish of 14th (13.7) is good enough for fourth among XFINITY Series drivers collecting points.

The results, passion and craft that Wallace Jr. possesses is enough to attract an invested sponsor, but that hasn’t come yet.

Now, it is only a short matter of time before Wallace Jr.’s future may have to be reevaluated.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ZacharyWLange

E-MAIL Zachary at: zacharywlange@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Tense Times Ahead for Roush Fenway and RCR

With the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup “regular season” already past the halfway point. For fans, the drama is only beginning. For those on the Chase bubble, stress and anxiety will only increase with each passing week.

For three-time winner Kyle Busch and points leader Kevin Harvick, breathing comes a little easier knowing they’re going to compete for another championship. For surprisingly successful rookie Chase Elliott, there’s enough of a cushion that only a drastic change in fortune will keep him from making NASCAR’s playoffs.

Not every driver is in such an enviable position. For the following drivers and teams, there will be some tense times ahead.

Roush Fenway Racing: While the organization has improved over 2015, Roush Fenway is still a step or two (at least) behind the other big teams. None of their three drivers, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. or Greg Biffle would qualify for the Chase if we were heading to Chicago. Of the three, Bayne is the closest in 18th spot, only 19 points removed from the final Chase spot (currently held by fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney) while Biffle is nearly 100 points back. There was some excitement in the Roush Fenway camp during the Sprint Showdown, but they are still lacking performance during the regular season.

Clint Bowyer: Everyone knew that 2016 would be a lame duck season for Bowyer at HScott Motorsports. Still, everyone was expecting more out of Bowyer. He has struggled throughout the season, with only two finishes in the Top 10 and has failed to finish on the lead lap in eight of his 15 starts. Currently 23rd in points, Clint’s only hope seems to be an unlikely win.

Danica Patrick: Coming into 2016, Patrick’s performance was once again under a microscope. Could this be the year she put up the numbers that allowed her to live up to the hype? The stats say “No.” Her average finish (23.5) is only slightly better than her average start (26.8) and certainly not enough to she can make up the 99 points that stand between her and Blaney. A win seems unlikely for her as well, as she has yet to record a top-10 finish.

Richard Childress Racing: This might be a surprise, seeing that RCR currently has two drivers (Austin Dillon – 12th and Ryan Newman – 15th) who would make the Chase on points if the postseason began today. However, neither driver has been making too much noise with their performance (Dillon’s third-place Talladega finish notwithstanding). With Kasey Kahne just outside the cut-off point (11 points behind Blaney) and with Hendrick resources behind him, expect him to dislodge one of RCR’s potential Chase contenders before Richmond.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Editorial

The Unraveling Continues as Roush Fenway Misses Chase

Jack Roush left Richmond with a feeling of emptiness. 

For the first time since the inception of the Chase, none of his three teams with drivers @GBiffle, @StenhouseJr., and @TBayne6, have a chance to race for the Sprint Cup Championship this season.

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. 

With @Chris_Buescher, anticipated to be in Cup next season, and @BubbaWallace in the pipeline, there may be a glimmer of hope for the Ford loyalists.

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. 

Categories
XFINITY

Roush Fenway Youth Benefitting from Mark Martin Return

By Matt Weaver (Bristol, Tenn.) — Earlier this month, @MarkMartin and Roush Fenway Racing announced that the long-time partners have reunited and that the Sprint Cup veteran would serve as a driver coach and team consultant moving forward. But as it turns out, Martin had already joined the team several months prior and had already been working with RFR’s Nationwide Series drivers — @Chris_Buescher, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Reed.

Each week following a NASCAR event, Martin visits the Roush Fenway shop in Concord, N.C. and attends the weekly debriefs with team officials, drivers and crew members. His job is to analyze race footage and opine on what the team did right and where there is room for improvement.

Buescher is the most recent winner in the Nationwide Series, having won last week on the road course at Mid-Ohio. On Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Buescher called Martin a “huge asset for the team because of his talent and experience” from 30 years in the sport.

“It’s going to help us move forward, especially rookies like me and Ryan,” Buescher said. “We’re going to a lot of these tracks for the first time this season and while I have two prior races here, Mark helps us both on the track and off.

“He attends our team debriefs and tells us what he saw we could have done better. I’m really looking forward to having a long term relationship with Mark and having him help us as we continue to improve.”

Weaver: Roush Restocking for Future Success

Bayne is the 2011 Daytona 500 winner and is far from a rookie but he still feels like Martin has helped him improve this season, leading up to his full-time debut in the Sprint Cup Series next year. Bayne was quick to point out that everyone at RFR attends the meetings and provides their input but that Martin’s tenure is what separates him from the rest of the organization.

“Everyone at the team is involved in these meetings but he’s certainly provided his approach and perspective on all the things that we do,” Bayne said. “From my perspective, he’s been a huge asset especially as I get ready to run in the Sprint Cup Series full-time.

“I definitely plan on leaning on him quite a bit and I really look forward to having him at the shop.”