Kevin Rutherford · Friday October 18, 2013
How the mighty have fallen.
Just last year, Roush Fenway Racing was one of the Nationwide Series’ top organizations. Though it fielded only one full-time team, that team — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 6 effort — drove to its second straight series championship, while the part-time No. 60 car had moderate success, winning once with Carl Edwards.
Nowadays, things are a bit different. A move to two full-time teams, with a third — the No. 16 — running on a part-time basis has neither equaled nor even approached the success the team enjoyed in the past 10 years. Trevor Bayne experienced the team’s only bright spot, winning at Iowa earlier in the season, but his sixth-place ranking in the points is not what was expected from the defending champion’s former team. Then there’s Travis Pastrana. The X-Games medalist’s transition into stock car racing has been less than stellar, with no top fives and just four top 10s through 30 races, finishing on the lead lap in less than half of the races he’s run.
That makes 2014 a make-or-break year for Roush Fenway. Though certain races have proven that the once-elite organization can hold its own, it’s being left in the dust by Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, JR Motorsports and even Turner Scott Motorsports on occasion. If it can prove that 2013 was a fluke, during which growing pains affected the overall performance of the team, all will be forgotten. However, if 2014 ends up becoming more of the same, Roush Fenway could be in trouble on the Nationwide level.
At least one driver — arguably its brightest spot this season — will return to the fold in 2014. Bayne will be back in the former champion No. 6 team, gaining sponsorship from Advocare while Austin Dillon moves to the Sprint Cup Series. All the pieces are in place for a stellar season — perhaps all that was needed was a season to get accustomed to new surroundings. Stenhouse himself wasn’t much of a contender when he first joined the No. 6, after all.
It’s beyond Bayne where things get a little murkier. This week, it was announced that Ryan Reed will compete full-time for Roush Fenway in 2014, piloting the No. 16 that he’s driven here and there this year. Reed, a 20-year-old rookie in the series this season, has type 1 diabetes, and races with sponsorship from the American Diabetes Association for its Drive to Stop Diabetes campaign. In 2014, Reed retains the same sponsorship — with help from Lilly Diabetes — to run the full season. In four races in 2013, he has one top-10 finish.
Right now, Bayne and Reed are the only drivers with announced full-time futures at Roush Fenway in the Nationwide Series. Is that going to be enough? Bayne has proven himself as a solid driver, though he hasn’t yet broken out in a big way in the series, which could always keep him from the championship. Meanwhile, Reed’s abilities are still fairly uncharted, but his results in Roush equipment — as well as Venturini Motorsports’ cars in ARCA — aren’t exceptional. Pastrana, meanwhile, hasn’t landed a full-time gig, with no indication he’ll even be back in the series. If he does return to Roush, the results will need to improve over this season.
And what about Chris Buescher? The former ARCA champion has been decent in his seven-race stint for Roush Fenway this season, solidifying himself as a potential candidate for a full-time ride in the series (see: two top-10 finishes and only one finish outside the top 20). But money talks and Reed has it, currently putting Buescher on the sidelines rather than becoming the primary driver of the No. 16.
Now, if both Buescher and Reed could snag full-time rides with Roush, that could be a formidable — or at least potentially promising — pairing. Recall, again, that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wasn’t phenomenal prior to becoming a two-time series champion; in fact, there seems to be a lot of similarities between Stenhouse and Buescher, at least. Perhaps all he needs is a full-time shot. Same might go for Reed.
Whatever the Roush stable looks like when Daytona hits in February, it’s important that the team establishes a solid hold in the series once more. It’s at the very least admirable that the organization is avoiding throwing its Cup competitors into the series to help its cars along; in fact, its approach could pay big dividends down the road (see: Stenhouse). It’s all a matter of whether or not the investments the team is making — or receiving — are worth it.
-Brian Vickers is out for the season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who was pulling double duty with a ride in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 in the Sprint Cup Series, has developed a blood clot in his calf, recalling a similar ailment in 2010 that knocked the driver out for the remainder of the season that year. A replacement driver for the No. 20 has not been announced, while Gibbs teammate Elliott Sadler will pilot Vickers’ Cup ride.
-Kevin Harvick’s team move in the Cup Series will also mean a change of organization in the Nationwide Series in 2014. The former series champion will pilot JR Motorsports’ No. 5 in a minimum of 12 races next year, with sponsorship from Hunt Brothers Pizza for four of those races. A driver lineup for the rest of the races in the No. 5 has not been announced.
-Despite a solid first full-time Nationwide season that puts him 10th in points, Parker Kligerman doesn’t have a set-in-stone ride for the 2014 season. In an interview with Popular Speed, Kligerman said that multiple options were being explored, with the obvious intent to move up to the Sprint Cup Series eventually. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver will make his Cup debut for Swan Racing at Texas in a few weeks.
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