Roush Fenway Racing just spent the better part of a year falling behind on their Car of Tomorrow program.
Looks like they’re still “behind” now, but in a different sense. As in, everyone else is racing for position behind them.
This weekend, Roush Fenway Racing took the top-two positions at Dover for just their third Cup Series victory of the year. That follows an unprecedented performance last weekend at New Hampshire; back then, four of the team’s five drivers finished in the top 15, the best run the team has had in any CoT race to date. After months of searching the writing finally appears to be on the wall; after a sluggish start, RFR has turned the corner and is now running quite strong with the new car configuration. It almost appears as though Roush Fenway is intentionally hitting its peak… at exactly the right time.
It’s not all that long ago that much of this Chase talk about changing manufacturers a moot point. In 2005, Roush put all five of his cars in the Chase. Most of the fans and media were screaming that it was a travesty, and that such dominance by one team was sure to spell the doom of the sport. How long did it last? Um… 2006. Roush Racing was hit with a big dose of reality when only two of their five teams made the Chase that year. Earlier this year, they did not put enough emphasis on their CoT development, and as a result only have two cars in the Chase. However, over the last month or two, they have shown quite a bit of strength in CoT races, which bodes very well for the two drivers remaining in the top 12, virtually carrying the torch for Ford, Dodge and Toyota all torn into one…
In the meantime, Hendrick Motorsports – the organization that was dominant in the CoT races at the beginning of the year – suddenly has no answers for the Roush Fenway juggernaut. No doubt, the four-car team has struggled some as of late. Kyle Busch and Casey Mears did finish in the top 10 this weekend, but the Hendrick duo that is normally up front, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, were only able to make it into the top 15. The Hendrick teams did run quite well at New Hampshire, but Roush was at least their equal, and as an overall theme, the organization seems to be running stronger with little in the way of both pressure or expectations. The same can be said for Bristol, where Hendrick had no cars in the top 15. It seems organization has definitely lost their dominance in the CoT, and actually appears to be playing catch up after this past weekend.
That’s a sudden problem, because looking beyond this year, it looks as though Roush is perfectly positioned to get back to a place of dominance like they were in throughout 2005. They were very strong at Richmond before Carl Edwards had an engine expire and Greg Biffle had transmission trouble. David Ragan was still able to finish that race in third place, his best finish of the year. At Bristol, Edwards was the class of the field when it counted the most, easily choosing to outdistance Kasey Kahne, the only other car that was even in the same zip code as Edwards all day. Quietly behind him, Biffle was able to bring home a 10th-place finish that night as well – one of his better runs in a year that has been nightmarish at times. Running so well in CoT races – which will be the only car utilized for the Cup schedule in 2008 – speaks volumes about the state of Roush Fenway Racing. No question, they have to feel very good about where they are as they prepare for next year.
While success on the intermediate tracks with the CoT is going to depend greatly on research and development, there is no doubt that Roush is not going to drop the ball this time around and will certainly put as much effort as anyone into testing the CoT on those types of tracks. Considering the fact that they have always been strong on the 1.5-2-mile facilities, there is little doubt that they will come out of the box hitting on all cylinders next year.
While past success is no guarantee of future performance, Roush Fenway Racing appears to have learned their lesson with the CoT, and seems to be headed towards a year more like 2005 than 2006. When you look ahead to next year and a full season with the new car configuration, Hendrick may have the marquee names of the sport – but Roush Fenway Racing looks like a better bet to be the organization to beat in 2008.