This weekend, all three of NASCAR’s national touring series will race at Texas Motor Speedway. In its 20-year history, the mile-and-a-half track in Fort Worth has often been referred to as a House of Roush. Indeed, the Roush Fenway Racing organization is no stranger to success at Texas. Of the 31 Sprint Cup events at TMS, Roush’s drivers have claimed nine victories, more than any other team. Roush also has nine victories at Texas in the XFINITY Series and one win in the Camping World Truck Series.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ryan Reed, Roush Fenway’s current NXS drivers, could both use a win at Texas on Saturday to keep their championship hopes alive. However, the organization’s XFINITY winning streak is also hanging in the balance as the season wraps up. Roush Fenway has won at least one NXS race every season since 2004, the longest active streak in NASCAR’s second-tier division. But with Wallace and Reed winless so far in 2016, that streak hangs in the balance.
In fact, Roush Fenway’s winning streak could have been twice as long as it actually is. Roush has maintained a steady presence in the XFINITY Series since 1992. In that entire time, a span of 25 years, Roush has had only one winless XFINITY season – 2003.
That year was anomaly for Roush’s XFINITY participation too. The team started off the season fielding a car for Stanton Barrett, but Barrett and Roush parted ways 15 races into the year. Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton also combined for four appearances for Roush in 2003. Yet following Barrett’s departure, nobody ran the full NXS schedule for Roush, resulting in the team getting shut out of Victory Lane for the first time ever.
The 2016 season is noticeably different for Roush than 2003 was. Both Wallace and Reed are full-time XFINITY drivers. They made the Chase and survived the first eliminations and are not struggling to put competitive cars on the track. Do not forget that the organization won the championship last year with Chris Buescher. So why have victories been so hard to come by for RFR this season?
Perhaps Roush is struggling because the organization has downsized. Aside from a handful of appearances from Trevor Bayne and Gray Gaulding, Wallace and Reed are the only Roush drivers who show up at the track on a regular basis. Last year, Wallace, Reed, Buescher and Elliott Sadler were all full-time competitors for the organization, and having half as many cars in each race obviously means that the organization will have fewer opportunities to win.
Additionally, Roush is not fielding any teams for Sprint Cup drivers in the series this year. Whether or not fans approve of the practice, there can be no doubt that Cup drivers have played an important role in keeping RFR’s winning streaks alive. Looking at the current streak, Roush won 52 races from the spring Darlington event in 2004 to the spring Dover race in 2011. One of the team’s Sprint Cup racers was responsible for every single victory. The following week at Iowa, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. broke up the Roush Cup driver stranglehold on NXS victories by getting one of his own.
During the original winning streak, which lasted from 1992-2002, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton accounted for every trip to Victory Lane up through the end of 2000, a total of 49 wins. Greg Biffle’s win in the inaugural race at Nashville Superspeedway in 2001 was the first by an XFINITY regular driving a Roush Ford.
If Roush really wanted to extend the winning streak, the team probably could have found a way to get its Sprint Cup drivers into the XFINITY Series more often. Bayne has run one race, and Stenhouse Jr. is scheduled to compete at Phoenix next weekend, but those races are more about good opportunities with sponsors than chasing after a statistical milestone. In focusing on its XFINITY regulars, Roush is clearly trying to increase its chances of winning another NXS title. The team was probably prepared to sacrifice a few battles in order to win the war.
That said, RFR was probably not expecting to lose all of the battles. With no more Truck Series team and a Sprint Cup program that has not been up to its usual standard for several years, Roush’s XFINITY drivers have been its bright spots through the difficult times. No matter what ups and downs Roush Fenway has faced on the Sprint Cup side, its NXS teams have kept on winning. Until now, perhaps.
The concern could be totally gone by this time next week. If Wallace or Reed wins at Texas, the “Cat in the Hat” will come back into championship contention. Even if the win does not come, Roush will carry on. One winless XFINITY season is not going to destroy a well-established team like Roush Fenway Racing. But if a team that has been so successful for so long cannot produce the results expected of it, the whispers about RFR’s decline will only grow louder.