The Frontstretch: Roush's, Ford's Rough Start Peaks During Short Track Slump by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 4, 2009

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Roush's, Ford's Rough Start Peaks During Short Track Slump

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday May 4, 2009


There were three big reasons for three of NASCAR’s “Big Four” owners to smile on Saturday night. Joe Gibbs was busy congratulating Kyle Busch in Victory Lane, his young prodigy scoring a season-leading third win while jumping to fifth in points. Behind him, Hendrick “B” team Stewart-Haas Racing had their owner/driver knocking on the door, putting together a runner-up finish that combined with teammate Ryan Newman’s second straight top 5 in a row. Combine that with Jeff Gordon retaking the point lead, and there was plenty to be happy about over in the Hendrick camp. Last but not least, Saturday night was Jeff Burton’s 2009 coming out party, as he clearly got his act together for owner Richard Childress – finishing third on a night where a midrace spin could have left him 25th. Clearly, it was a time in which NASCAR’s Chase-eligible owners from last season were able to prove how and why they made the playoffs their own personal playground.

Of course, that came with one notable exception… Jack Roush.

Unfortunately, Roush’s five-car contingent wound up far from the flashbulbs of photographers and the hubbub of media interviews at Richmond. Instead, they were busy loading up in relative obscurity after failing to lead even one of the 400 laps on Saturday night. Coming home with finishes of 7th, 13th, 17th, 23rd, and 26th, the team holding up the gold standard for the Blue Oval has instead been looking especially blue as of late. Since winning the first two races of the season with Matt Kenseth, the team’s been shut out of Victory Lane while posting just 12 top 10 finishes in their last 40 starts. At the moment, the organization that once put all of its cars in the Chase has just three clinging to the bottom rungs of the top 12, with Carl Edwards 9th, Greg Biffle 11th, and Kenseth sitting smack on the bubble in 12th. And with Jamie McMurray and David Ragan well outside the top 20, three is just about as good as it’ll get for Roush in the playoffs this year.

Early in the weekend, Jack Roush found something to laugh about with NASCAR’s John Darby (center) and Robin Pemberton (right), but there wasn’t much to smile about Saturday night in Richmond for the Cat in the Hat.

But that’s not all – an organization that prides itself on running up front isn’t even putting itself in position to do so. A quick look at the “Laps Led” department since Las Vegas tells you all you need to know about the current state of the organization:

Greg Biffle: 134
Matt Kenseth: 64
Carl Edwards: 41
David Ragan: 3
Jamie McMurray: 0 (and zero laps led ALL year)
TOTAL: 242

Considering Jeff Gordon alone has led 412 laps during that stretch, it’s safe to say the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization finds itself a bit off the pace.

So, what’s going wrong? It appears the guys on pit road have to shoulder at least some of the blame here. With the Car of Tomorrow harder than ever to maneuver through traffic, track position proves critical in getting your car in position to win — and Roush cars have clearly struggled to gain it when they’ve needed it the most. Edwards and Biffle in particular have struggled with their pit stops this season, with Edwards’ team actually replacing crew member Corey Quick after a series of poor performances that culminated at Texas. Nowhere were the problems more apparent than that race, where a possible winning car got turned into a midpack contender after Edwards lost ten spots on the final round of stops. Meanwhile, Biffle struggled through not one but two bad stops caused by failed lugnut glue, causing pieces on his tires to fall off and his No. 16 Ford to battle back through the pack.

“The guys get down because the fingers get pointed to them for a slow stop,” admitted Biffle that Sunday. “It’s hard.”

But one of the biggest issues of all surrounding this slump is Roush’s sudden weakness at short tracks. Through the three races at Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond, the team has posted a total of two top 10 finishes in 15 starts – both of which came from McMurray’s mediocre No. 26 car. Overall, the organization is putting together a 23.4 average finish to match a pathetic showing of 0-for-1500 in the laps led department. Clearly, that’s not going to get the job done.

Richmond exemplified their struggles, with Edwards spun out by David Stremme only to get slammed into by his own teammate, McMurray, who lost control avoiding the spin. Later on, Edwards’ team made a gamble to stay out on old tires, but the move backfired when a long green flag run at the finish left the AFLAC Ford a sitting duck – literally. Teammate Ragan got left in the same boat with a strategy that’s worked just like his Cup career – from promising to problematic in little more than a blink of an eye.

“If we had a good pit stop and we were on the right cycle as far as pitting, we were a top 10 car,” Ragan explained. “But if we had a goof on pit road or if I made a mistake on a restart and we lost a few spots, we just couldn’t seem to go anywhere. It was typical short track racing. It’s all about track position and that’s ultimately what won the race for everyone and that’s what cost us a top 10 finish.”

It was the latest wrong decision that left you scratching your heads – especially when you consider how well RFR started off 2009. Coming into the season with a great deal of momentum, Carl Edwards’ November hot streak put him within a whisker of taking the championship from Jimmie Johnson and established the organization had finally figured out the CoT. When that was followed up by a 2-for-2 start by Kenseth, you had an organization looking like it had positioned itself to run away from the rest of the field. But within 10 laps of the green at Las Vegas, Kenseth’s engine went sour in his bid to win three straight; he finished dead last that day, one of a handful of problems for Roush teams at a track they’ve dominated in years past.

Since then, we’ve yet to see RFR make a statement they’re going to be a contender come playoff time. Yes, it’s still early, and yes, there’s plenty of time to turn it around.

They just better be careful not to wait too much longer before turning on the jets.

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Kevin in SoCal
05/04/2009 02:22 AM

Hey Mike, before you go on your usual profanity-laced tirade against Roush in this post, please do us all a favor, save your breath, and go take a walk around the block.

05/04/2009 12:33 PM

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion! Just because my opinion of Jerk Roush doesn’t agree with your’s doesn’t mean I have to shut up! Look at any message board on the internet that discusses racing and nobody has a good opinion of this idiot and his drivers. Heck, I don’t know if anyone would be stupid enough to admit to being a fan of Roush, or Kenseth, or Biffle, or McMurray, or Ragan, and especially Edwards! Edwards has made such a fool of himself this week it isn’t funny! When NASCAR summoned him to Daytona on Thursday, I was so hoping he would have been kicked out of NASCAR for good! And you want to know how much he’s hated? Did you listen to Darrel Waltrip during Saturday’s race? Even he cheered when David Stremme spun Edwards out! He said Stremme did the right thing! Way to go, Darrel! Yes, I cannot stand Roush, or anyone who’s so stupid to be a fan of his or his drivers! So I’l express my opinions to that fact, thank you! And don’t anyone dare to tell me that these buffoons will recover and make the chase! They won’t! And if there’s even one Roush driver in the chase, I won’t watch! Besides, the Championship battle will be coming down to Junior, Gordon, Johnson, and Kyle Busch! And as much as I feel the Hendrick drivers are the greatest, especially Jeff Gordon, my money will be on Kyle! At leats he would deserve the Championship, which Edwards sure doesn’t! Kyle might even take BOTH the Cup AND Nationwide titles! Edwards could never do that! His ego has finally got the best of him!

05/04/2009 12:36 PM

RE: The picture with Pemberton, Darby, & Roush, the reason everyone is laughing is that Jack asked them when they are going to properly apply the rule book!

Kevin in SoCal
05/04/2009 01:52 PM

Yep, better to have been thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

05/04/2009 02:22 PM

The major problem with freedom of speech is that the ignorant interpret the right to one’s own opinion as an obligation to regurgitate it on any available forum. Such people are usually easy to spot since their rants are typically filled with absurd statements like “Junior will be battling for the Championship this year”.

05/04/2009 02:46 PM

You’re right, Mike. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And mine will most likely unleash a tirade from you. I am not only a big fan of “Jack” Roush, but also of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. First of all, Matt, Carl, and Greg will not only make the Chase, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jamie made it too! And about the way Darrel Waltrip conducted himself Saturday evening, well, when he made his praising comment about Stremme’s actions, I stopped watching the race. Too bad MRN isn’t available here in Canada. Then I could actually enjoy listening to the broadcasts! And if you cared to read any of the articles about the meeting between Edwards, Roush, and NASCAR, you would have read that Edwards and Roush talked first, then Roush was the one who initiated the meeting with NASCAR. As for Edwards being on a couple of TV shows, obviously they asked him to come and appear. And if you think if that Talladega accident had of involved Jimmie Johnson or Junior, that they would have turned down the opportunity to go on those shows, although I’m not too sure about Larry King, your head is somewhere it shouldn’t be! Lastly, after watching the interview of Keselowskie by Wendy Venturini, and again later on Windtunnel, I now look at Junior’s Goldenboy as nothing more than a cocky, arrogent, conceited punk! Heck, if that had been Dale Senior racing him at Talladega, he would have run Keselowsie right into the grass, yellow line or no yellow line! And you know it! So do us a favour, we all know how much you hate Roush. We get it! Please stop rehashing this. I for one am tired of it! My last comment: If Matt Kenseth doesn’t win the Championship, I hope Carl does!

Matt T. --
05/04/2009 02:50 PM

That’s just classic, Kevin. My God, that’s funny.

Brian France Sucks, and so does this Mike guy
05/04/2009 06:47 PM

Hey Mike, your village called; they want their idiot back. You need to stop and back away from the crack pipe compadre.

Managing Editor
05/04/2009 11:24 PM


Just to clarify something that’s been all over the internet … Carl was NOT SUMMONED down to Daytona. He actually INITIATED the meeting with Mike Helton … that’s the true, factual information.

Just wanted to correct that as I’ve seen several misstatements out there.


Contact Tom Bowles

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