Has Roush Fenway Hit Rock Bottom?

Jordan McAbeeFantasy NASCAR, News

Jack Roush Ricky Stenhouse NASCAR

Jack Roush Ricky Stenhouse NASCARBack in 2011, Roush Fenway Racing (via Carl Edwards) probably should have won the Sprint Cup Series championship, as the driver of the #99 Ford posted a series-best (by far) average finish of 9.3 over the course of the 36-race season. As we all know, Tony Stewart performed a miracle of sorts, winning three of the last four events and taking the championship home–via tiebreaker–over Carl Edwards. The latter followed that campaign up with a 15th-place finish in the points standings in 2012.

The beginning of the 2015 Sprint Cup season has brought along with it many changes with one of the most prominent being Carl Edwards’ move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing–joining Matt Kenseth, who made the exact same move in 2013. Kenseth went on to win 7 races during his first season with JGR and ended up 2nd in points to champion Jimmie Johnson. A change of scenery may have been exactly what Matt needed…and exactly what Carl Edwards needs as well.

Roush Fenway’s Struggles

It’s been clear for a couple of years now that the Roush Fenway organization isn’t where it was just 5 years ago. The Fords of this team used to be instant threats whenever the series visited an intermediate race track, but in 2014 that wasn’t that case at all; as an example, Carl Edwards had only four top 5 finishes on the “cookie cutter” venues last year, which is incredibly low considering the majority of NASCAR’s schedule is that type of track. Those are also Carl’s strength, as well as Roush Fenway’s…or so we thought.

Maybe Carl Edwards didn’t just need a change of scenery. Maybe he wanted to actually have a chance to win not only races but contend for the championship.

JGR drivers NASCARAs mentioned before, Carl Edwards will be joining previous Roush teammate Carl Edwards again now that he is employed by Joe Gibbs. Those two drivers–along with fellow JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch–easily make this organization one of the most talented in the garage, right up there with Hendrick Motorsports. All four Gibbs drivers will easily be considered Sprint Cup championship contenders in 2015, and should be as long as their equipment is up to snuff.

The Future for Roush

When you look at the stable of drivers for Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, there’s definitely a lot more to be desired. The team will be led by veteran Greg Biffle, who is entering his 13th full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. “The Biff” hasn’t won more than 2 races in a single season since 2005 and has led less than 250 laps in the last two years combined. As a comparison, Kevin Harvick led 264 laps in a single race last year (Phoenix in November). Greg Biffle is the type of guy that will consistently put up some good finishes but, chances are, won’t end up with more than one or two wins per year. If you’re looking at it from an organizational view, The Biff is a mid-tier driver at best, not the one you want leading a team.

The other two drivers that will drive for team owner Jack Roush in 2015 are Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne. The former is entering his third full-time season in the Sprint Cup series and has notched just eight top 10 finishes in his 76 career starts in NASCAR’s top level. Even worse is the fact that three of those eight have come at restrictor plate tracks where your result is due just as much to luck as it is talent. Stenhouse made the move to Sprint Cup in 2013 after back-to-back championships in the now-Xfinity Series in 2011 and 2012. The transition for young Ricky has been tough to say the least, as he’s been (at best) a high-20s finishing driver on most race weekends thus far.

Trevor Bayne is most widely-known for his Daytona 500 victory in 2011 while driving for the Wood Brothers in the #21 Ford. He’s been an Xfinity Series regular for quite a while now but in 2015 Bayne will make the move to the Sprint Cup Series to drive the #6 Ford for Jack Roush. It’s been a slow transition for Bayne, as he’s participated in 12 of the 36 Sprint Cup races in each of the last two seasons, albeit with the #21 team. Still, like Stenhouse, Bayne has been a high-20s threat at best on race day in NASCAR’s top series, and we should expect much of the same in his first full season in Cup.

Mediocrity in 2015

Greg Biffle at Las VegasThere have been no official announcements of rebuilding for the Roush Fenway Racing organization, but that definitely seems to be what’s going on this year. It’s no secret that they’re trying to get younger; by letting 35-year-old Carl Edwards walk and bringing in 23-year-old Trevor Bayne, the average age of drivers there has decreased tremendously. Still, Greg Biffle is 45 years old and is signed through 2016. If Roush’s goal is to allow Biffle to mentor young Stenhouse and Bayne, more power to him (and good luck).

As far as what to expect out of these three Fords in 2015, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Biffle might win a race or two this season and make the Chase, but that’s about the most I see the #16 team achieving. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. should improve upon his average finish of 22.4 last season, but he won’t be a week-to-week top 10 threat (maybe once a month). As far as Trevor Bayne, I’m not expecting a lot. Personally I think he is one of the most overrated young drivers in NASCAR and he’s coming to an organization that is lacking strength. That’s a terrible combination.

It’s hard to fathom that the Roush Fenway organization is now one of the least competitive teams in the Sprint Cup garage, especially considering they had a lot of success just five years ago (and a lot more talent). Like I said before, maybe there’s a reason behind their best drivers fleeing. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of success Carl Edwards has with Joe Gibbs racing in 2015.