Roush-Fenway Racing is heading in a new direction it appears for the 2015 season. After releasing lead engineer, Chip Bolin, rumors have swirled around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage area about two of Roush’s drivers, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.
According to reports, Biffle has signed a multi-year deal with the only team he has ever driven for at NASCAR’s highest level. However, it appears Edwards, 34, is on his way out. Even though he has been the strongest driver at the organization this season, Edwards has somewhat struggled at the intermediate tracks – just like his teammates, Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“We have done a really good job. The fact that we have a win is huge. That allows us to work really hard going into the Chase. A big reason to that is our crew chief, Jimmy Fennig,” Edwards said at Dover. “It appears to have (put us behind a bit). Historically, we have responded very well to change, but this change has been tough for us to stay ahead of. The time that we have before the Chase is really valuable to us.”
But even though he has stated on numerous occasions that he believes in Roush’s ability to get back to contending for wins on a weekly basis, Edwards is likely going to leave the team at the conclusion of this season. Although he was offered a deal from Richard Childress Racing, the 22-time Sprint Cup Series winner opted to decline the job with the Chevrolet team.
Motorsport.com reported on Thursday that Edwards will be going to Joe Gibbs Racing as a fourth car at the Toyota operation. Gibbs’ team has run three cars since expanding from two teams in 2005. However, at times – JGR has run four cars during race weekends as a R&D team.
Of course, there has to be drama in Edwards’ move.
He has driven for Roush since they took a chance on him in the Camping World Truck Series in 2003. When Jeff Burton headed out Roush’s doors, Edwards replaced him in the No. 99 car, and he has called the team home since. But now he is following his former teammate, Matt Kenseth, to create a new home.
This leaves Biffle as the lead driver at one of the two major Ford teams in NASCAR’s top-tier division. Biffle, 44, has also raced his entire career with RFR, but he has had just one year scoring more than two wins (2005). However, he has dealt with adversity rather well over the past few years, and will be a key mentor for Stenhouse Jr. as well as Trevor Bayne – who will drive the No. 6 Ford next year.
With Bayne moving to full-time competition with Roush, he might just be Edwards’ replacement. Even if another driver can find funding to move to Roush, they are clearly not in a position to expand to four cars.
The biggest struggle for them has been the ride height rules which NASCAR set in place this year. They have not been able to figure out the perfect setup, and now Edwards is off to another team which has also struggled in the same area.
Now, Roush will need to learn how to survive without a superstar. They are hoping that some of his sponsors will stay with the team – moving over to Stenhouse’s car. But if not – Roush will have to look for additional funding for the No. 17 car as the other two teams have sponsorship for the full season.
It started out as an abysmal season for one of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. However, Chris Buescher has learned from mistakes made early in the season, and now he is inside of the top-10 in Nationwide Series points.
Buescher, 21, is racing for Roush-Fenway Racing this year, but there is an open seat available in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His teammate, Trevor Bayne, has been racing full-time on the Nationwide Series circuit for RFR while running part-time at NASCAR’s highest level for the Wood Brothers for the past several seasons. Now, Bayne is taking his Advocare sponsorship to the Sprint Cup Series with RFR in the No. 6 Ford – leaving an open seat available with the Wood Brothers.
Rumors have been swirling around the NASCAR garage area that although Sam Hornish Jr. is the leading candidate for the ride, Buescher also has a strong chance to drive the famous No. 21 car.
“There have been no discussions as far as that goes,” Buescher said. “They are still focusing on the rest of this season and getting Trevor some more good runs in for the rest of the year.”
However, even though he has not started to talk to the Wood Brothers, Buescher has not completely closed the door on the possibility of racing for them in 2015.
“I’m sure we’ll start talking to them about where they are headed next year, but there is not a whole lot to talk about at the moment.”
Even if he races with the Wood Brothers next year on a part-time basis, Buescher will continue to pilot a car for Roush on a full-time basis in the Nationwide Series – similar to the process which the team had to develop Stenhouse.
Since 2011, the No. 21 car has not been on the track at more than 16 events in a single season. Besides their Daytona 500 victory, Bayne and the Wood Brothers have seen limited success with just two top-10s after that race (both of which came in 2012). However, the team has a strong relationship with RFR, whom of which influenced the team to sign Bayne to replace Bill Elliott after the 2010 season.
“Trevor is very helpful with us every weekend, but it is not like he’s going to be far away. He’s going to be right next door in the Cup Series garage. Any help we can get from him is always appreciated as well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It is tough going to some of these places for the first time,” Buescher said on what his perspective would be after Bayne leaves RFR.
Buescher missed the season-opener at Daytona when qualifying rained out after the first session. Since then, he has six straight finishes of 13th or better. The 2012 ARCA Series champion is looking to record his second top-five finish of his rookie season as he sits eighth in the Nationwide Series points standings.
“We’ve been coming on pretty strong here lately. Our Roush-Fenway Racing cars are getting better as we go through the season. We ran really well at Michigan. We’re definitely making progress and I’m looking forward to where we are headed,” he said.
It has been a roller coaster start for Roush-Fenway Racing in 2014. Carl Edwards has been running consistently in the top-10, but the team’s other two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have been mediocre, something that RFR is not accustomed to.
Throughout the past, the organization has been strong on the intermediate tracks, but there has been a lack of performance by each of the three Sprint Cup Series cars owned by Jack Roush and John Henry. Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are 11th and 25th in the points standings, respectively. However, Edwards is third in points after gambling his way to a top-five at Charlotte.
“We have to get faster. There are a couple of teams that are really on the ball right now like the Stewart-Haas guys and Hendrick. We just need to find the raw speed. We have the pit stops, strategy and all of those things that we need to have down pretty well,” Edwards said in an exclusive interview inside the No. 99 hauler after first practice on Friday afternoon.
With speculation that Edwards and Biffle might leave RFR, Edwards has been able to keep his focus solely on racing, all the while dealing with rumors swirling around the NASCAR garage area. Some say Edwards will leave, others say he will stay. But all that doesn’t matter as he is just focused on doing his job – similar to Matt Kenseth in 2012 and Kevin Harvick last season.
The new aero package which NASCAR introduced over the off-season appears to be putting RFR behind, and Edwards understands that. However, with a win at Bristol, Edwards can afford to take more risks, especially since he is amongst the class of the field on a weekly basis. Besides leading 78 laps en route to his win at Bristol, Edwards has led just 26 markers this year, showing RFR still has some improvements they need to make.
“Yeah, absolutely (we can take risks). We can be a little less cautious, have some more fun. For instance, last weekend (the Coca-Cola 600) is a good example,” Edwards said. “We stretched the fuel to have a chance to win the race and if we were points racing, we might not have done that. We have a chance to win this race on Sunday and on the final restart, we really don’t have much to lose by trying to be aggressive.”
Even with some inconsistency this season, Edwards has been able to make improvements from a 2013 season in which he finished 13th in points. Along with the new aero package, Edwards believes the qualifying format has slightly hurt the entire RFR team.
“The most difficult part of the new qualifying format is that if you barely miss the cut, you have to go out with mad panic to try to make the next round. If you try to run a faster lap on older tires, it is really hectic. I hope it is entertaining because it is more fun than the old qualifying.”