New faces join the familiar veterans this season at Roush Fenway Racing, but no matter how long they’ve been with the team, the three Sprint Cup and four XFINITY series drivers have a common goal: to put the team back on top.
It’s no secret that 2014 was not a strong season for RFR. Carl Edwards won twice and Greg Biffle squeezed into the Chase on points, but they finished ninth and 14th in points, respectively, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. failed to crack the top 25. Edwards announced that he was moving on to Joe Gibbs racing for 2015, leaving RFR after 11 years in the team’s No. 99 car.
“Last year was certainly a tough season for us. This offseason and the no testing that has gone on, we really kind of agonized over, but I really feel like it has been a turning point for Roush Fenway,” RFR senior driver Biffle, whose consistency has been a mainstay for the team for several years, said Wednesday. “It’s given us the down time and the opportunity to step back and look at potentially where we had made the wrong turn in the road.
“We got some new people in, and when you’re racing every week and you’re trying to do this, and you’re testing and you’re over at Nashville and you’re doing all these things, you’re looking at the problem down low. And it wasn’t until we got up higher and really looked at the landscaping and decided that we’d made some wrong decisions back possibly over a year ago with the direction of our cars. We feel like we found some things we’ve done wrong and have righted those things. You have to pick a road and a path and go down that, and we did. I feel like we’ve really got a great thing going.”
On the XFINITY Series side, RFR had three drivers finish inside the top 10 in points, but none was a threat for the title. Trevor Bayne finished sixth in series points with Chris Buescher seventh and Ryan Reed in ninth. Buescher pulled in the win at Mid-Ohio, but Bayne and Reed each went winless for the season.
Heading into 2015, the team boasts a revamped look and attitude. Owner Jack Roush changed the No. 99 back to the No. 6 that had been his flagship team for many years with Mark Martin and moved Bayne, a Cup winner with his 2011 Daytona 500 victory, into the driver’s seat as a teammate to Biffle and Stenhouse. Bayne has more than 50 Cup Series starts under his belt with Wood Brothers Racing. He will be paired with veteran crew chief Bob Osborne, while Matt Puccia remains with Biffle and former No. 99 engineer Nick Sandler takes the reins for Stenhouse. Longtime crew chief Jimmy Fennig moves into a role as the team’s research and development coordinator.
Buescher and Reed remain with RFR for the XFINITY Series season, joined by veteran Elliott Sadler and rising star Darrell Wallace, Jr. The team is still searching for funding for Wallace, and his schedule has not been determined, though team officials said Wednesday it was likely he’d run at least until summer as the team continues to pursue backing.
Team owner Jack Roush, who marks his 28th season in NASCAR this year, said, “Looking back at the changes… the glass is definitely more than half full.” But Roush acknowledged that the team’s intermediate track program, long its hallmark, suffered in 2014. “The hole in our performance was at the mile-and-a-half and two-mile race tracks, which have typically been our strength… but we’ve made our tweaks and we’ve got a really strong lineup of drivers.”
With a fairly young lineup, it’s likely that there will be some growing pains. Bayne, who has been with the organization since 2011, summed up the team’s new look and new attitude.
“It’s a great group of people to be around, from the drivers to the new managers to Jack, who seems more excited than ever,” he said. “From the bottom to the top, there’s a new culture going on at Roush Fenway Racing.”
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