Over the years, there have been many great debates in American society. Whether it’s Coke or Pepsi, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, the Red Sox or the Yankees, Hulk Hogan or The Rock, Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth, or even the debate of paper or plastic, our society likes to debate which side is better. In the world of NASCAR, there is a potential debate brewing that, amazingly, few have publicly addressed. And what is this debate, pray tell?
It’s the question of who will wind up potentially being the odd man out at Roush Fenway. Will it be Trevor Bayne or Ricky Stenhouse Jr.?
On the surface, it appears that Roush is committed to both drivers. Bayne has become quite the media darling since his Daytona 500 triumph while Stenhouse has been rather quietly leading the Nationwide Series points for much of the early part of the season. Had this question been asked this time a year ago, the answer would have been pretty much cut-and-dry as Bayne was contending for top-10’s with the then Diamond-Waltrip Racing organization while Stenhouse was auditioning for the role of NASCAR’s official crash-test dummy with all the wrecks he kept having. Fast forward a year later and it’s not so crystal-clear on who there won’t be room in the Roush-Fenway inn for.
Granted, Trevor Bayne does have the one thing Stenhouse has yet to attain in the form of a victory in NASCAR, but that victory came for Bayne in the Sprint Cup Series and Stenhouse Jr. has yet to race at that level, so that comparison isn’t entirely fair. But the growing question lately with Bayne is will he be a long-term success, or is he just a one-trick pony? Ever since Bayne’s Daytona 500 triumph, he hasn’t finished higher than 20th in a race in the Cup Series and he has been out-performed on the Nationwide side of things by teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse Jr. in just less than a year’s time has gone from the brink of being yet another failed USAC to NASCAR transplant to being one of the few legitimate threats to win a Nationwide race that is not a Cup regular. Look at the first half of his rookie Nationwide Series campaign, for example. He only had one top 5 and two top 10s in that time. Since then, it seems as if the light switch has come on for Stenhouse, as he’s accumulated in the last half of his rookie year and the first seven races of this year a total of three top 5s and 11 top 10s.
However, let’s not discount what Bayne has accomplished in the Nationwide Series as, statistically, he has out-performed Stenhouse with seven top 5s and 17 top 10s with four pole positions compared to two for Stenhouse. But since both drivers have been under the umbrella of Roush Fenway, it has been Stenhouse who has performed slightly better, which only further thickens the plot. In the 14 starts both drivers have had under the Roush Fenway umbrella, both Bayne and Stenhouse Jr. have a pair of top 5s, but Stenhouse Jr. has eight top 10s compared to five for Bayne during that time. Then numbers don’t lie. That being said, both drivers have been amongst the select few that have been able to legitimately contend for wins against the Sprint Cup inter-lopers.
Logic would dictate for Jack Roush to find a way to keep both drivers in his stable. But with Greg Biffle just signing a contract extension, Carl Edwards likely to do the same in a short matter of time and Kenseth locked under contract, the only potential seat that might be open would possibly be the No. 6 UPS Ford driven by David Ragan, but if UPS stays, Ragan would be likely to stay as well. But, for the sake of playing Devil’s Advocate, let’s say Ragan is released. That leads to one empty seat for two immensely talented drivers. Roush is high on both drivers and is likely to keep the both as long as he can find the financial backing to do so. But the question is who will get the call-up to the next level? While Bayne has limited Cup experience, Stenhouse has improved from a disastrous start to at least being on par with Bayne. This is going to be a very tough decision for Roush, which might be made tougher if Stenhouse was to win the Nationwide Series championship over Bayne.
The fact of the matter is NASCAR, in its current state, is driven by the economy. And if the economy is more adept to sponsor someone like Trevor Bayne over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush would likely have to go with Bayne. The question then becomes would Stenhouse be willing to stick around the Nationwide Series to bide his time until Roush can finally call him up to the next level, or will he take his talents elsewhere? The answer to this question likely will not come until the end of this season, but even then, it will be one of the more agonizing decisions Jack Roush has had to make.
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