Charlotte, NC – Wednesday was Ford Day at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour and it began bright and early with Roush Fenway Racing. Although the team won two races in 2014, they both came from Carl Edwards who now resides at Joe Gibbs Racing. Other than those two wins, there wasn’t much to shout about for Jack Roush’s team. That’s something they are trying to correct and hopefully very quickly.
All teams use simulation programs to help set up cars for certain tracks and team owner Jack Roush discovered that the program that the team was using was not accurate. Roush then went to work to correct the problem.
“Jack really imparted to Robbie Reiser, myself and the rest of the management team that we have to embrace change and figure out what we needed to do to get our team back on top,” said RFR President Steve Newmark. “That is what we did beginning the middle of last year. We made a lot of changes, some of them hard decisions. I will mention a few of them. You will hear a lot about it from these guys. Some of the things, fortunately we have a great partner in Ford that stood behind us and worked tirelessly as we tried to replace our simulation program.”
It didn’t stop there. RFR added engineers Mark McCardell, Kevin Kidd, Phil Gould and others. They feel like that is a real position of strength for them going forward. They did all of that and kept the anchors of the organization that gave them so much success in the past. Robbie Reiser, Bob Osborne and Jimmy Fennig are all still there, and Newmark says you can feel the energy in the building.
“If you go through the halls of Roush now I think it is more energetic than I have ever seen it,” Newmark added. “There is a lot of excitement about the direction we are heading. We understand that hope springs eternal for all teams at this point and that we are going to be judged ultimately by the performance on the track but are extremely confident we have made significant improvements with the help of Ford to get us where we need to go.”
In addition, Roush Fenway added Elliott Sadler and rising star Darrell Wallace Jr. to the Xfinity side of the organization made up of Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, Chris Beuscher, Wallace, and Sadler.
Stenhouse had a dismal season, missing a race at Talladega and running in the second pack all year. He credits his optimism for 2015 with the return of Jimmie Fennig, Carl Edwards’ crew chief the last two years.
“We have some new changes on our team and a lot of the guys are working really hard in the shop. Nick Sandler has moved over from Carl’s engineer from last year and learned a lot from Jimmy Fennig,” Stenhouse said. “Mike (Kelly) is still a big part of our team and that was really important for me to have him stick around. It means a lot to me personally but also to the team. He sets a great example to our crew guys and we have some younger crew guys that really look up to him. I think everyone really appreciates his dedication. With Nick and Mike working together and with leadership from Jimmy I think we will have a great season. I am ready to get it going.”
Greg Biffle had a less than satisfactory season last year. Biffle stayed with Roush, despite offers from other teams, and looks to improve in 2015.
“You know, as everyone knows and Steve mentioned earlier, last year was certainly a tough season for us. I will tell you that this off season and the no testing that has gone on, we have really kind of agonized over things but I really feel like it has been a turning point for Roush Fenway because it has given us the down time and opportunities to step back and look at potentially where we had made the wrong turn in the road at,” Biffle said.
“We have some new people in and when you are racing every week and trying to do this and testing and over at Nashville and doing all these things, you are looking at the problem down low. It wasn’t until we got up higher and really looked at the landscape we decided we made some wrong decisions back possibly over a year ago on the direction with our cars. We really feel like we have found some things we have done wrong. We feel we have righted those things.
“I appreciate what Ford has done for us. They have really put their nose to the grind stone and provided everything, especially with the new alliance they have created. I am excited about it. I am ready to go.”
Trevor Bayne is no stranger to fans. He won the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers, but hasn’t won since. Still, he says he is “pumped up” for the new season.
“I get to drive for Jack, the man I signed up to drive for six years ago in the Cup Series with the 6 car, said Bayne. “What an opportunity it is to bring that back, especially with a full time sponsor with AdvoCare. To make that step and be full time at the Cup level, I can’t think of many sponsors that make that step. What a great year we have to look forward to.”
Finally, Roush is energized, even at age 73. Instead of calling the new people “changes”, he prefers to call them, well, something else entirely. He praises the three wins the organization had last year, two on road courses with Edwards and Beuscher, and one short track also with Edwards, but acknowledges that the 1.5-mile tracks, which make up a majority of the circuit were RFR’s Kryptonite.
“I characterize our changes as tweaks. We looked at a number of things on the 1.5 mile cars and Mark McCardell and Kevin Kidd have given us some new perspective on some things that have gone on in the industry beyond the vision of myself and Robbie Reiser,” Roush said. “We made our tweaks and have a strong lineup of partners.”
“The support from Ford has been good, the partnership has been good,” he continued. “We need to maintain our position with our road racing prowess and superspeedway prowess and pick up on the 1.5 and two-mile tracks. I am anxious to do that. I have never been more excited about our lineup of drivers. Greg Biffle and Elliott Sadler being the senior group – not senior like myself but seniors in terms of drivers – and the rookies, we don’t have any rank rookies but Ryan Reed with his second year and Chris Buescher in his second year and as a ARCA champion as well and there is an expectation of what will happen with Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace. I couldn’t be happier with our XFINITY program and we just have to go to the race track with our Cup cars and see what we can do on these 1.5 mile race tracks.”