Race Weekend Central

Daytona 500 Qualifying Duels Show Off Roush’s Past, Future

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Greg Biffle was tired of losing before he even got to the track.

It was 2016 and Roush Fenway Racing, the only NASCAR team Biffle had ever competed for, was going nowhere fast.

Stars like Matt Kenseth (2012) and Carl Edwards (2014) had moved on. Biffle, the last remnant of the team’s peak, hadn’t won since 2013. Roush as a whole had gone without a NASCAR Cup Series victory since 2014 at Sonoma Raceway with Edwards.

Over the course of his last three seasons with Roush, Biffle recorded just seven top fives and 18 top 10s.

“I was tired of running in the position we were running,” Biffle said. “I didn’t want to try and stay on the lead lap. It wasn’t my goal in racing (to) show up at each race and try and be on the lead lap at the end of it. I didn’t want to do that anymore … we knew we were beat before we left the shop, and I’d had enough of that.”

Biffle, then 46, parted ways with the team the day after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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What had happened to a team that once boasted the most wins by any organization in NASCAR history with 325?

“After Matt left and then after Carl left, we were on a path that we needed an influx of something to change the course of the organization,” Biffle said. “We were just doing the same thing every week hoping for a different result is what it boiled down to.

“We just couldn’t bend the needle. There was just no evidence that that was going to change in the near future.”

There were other reasons.

Chris Buescher is the last driver to claim a NASCAR championship for Roush. That came in 2015 in the Xfinity Series, where Roush won 138 races before closing that operation at the end of 2018.

Buescher had left the team after 2015 before rejoining it in 2020 after three seasons at JTG Daugherty Racing.

“When I was almost 16, at the time Roush was dominating, right?” Buescher said. “It was eight, nine wins a year (and) battling for championships. … The level of excitement for me to be a kid from Texas signing up to go race for that organization was through the roof,” Buescher said.

Even though Buescher got to enjoy some success in Xfinity, Roush’s “Cup program had fallen down some.”

The process of Roush picking itself up was only made harder in Buescher’s first full year back with the team, when the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll.

“It’s been a tough battle trying to catch up,” Buescher said. “Some of it’s from no testing, not having that ability as race teams to catch up. It’s not so bad when you’re ahead and they take it away, but trying to play catch-up without the ability to have that extra track time (in addition to) me personally coming over and getting three or four races into a season and losing practice made it very difficult to get into the hang of things back at RFK.”

At the end of the 2021 season, Roush had just two Cup victories since 2014. Both had come from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on superspeedways.

Something needed to change.

It took six years after Biffle’s departure, but change did come.

It arrived in the form of a new owner and a new car.

Reset

Prior to Thursday night (Feb. 18), the team formerly known as Roush Fenway Racing had only one win in a Daytona qualifying race.

That occurred 10 years ago in Kenseth’s final year with the team.

What better way to start the team’s Brad Keselowski era than with a clean sweep of the twin 60-lap races?

Keselowski, who joined the team as driver and co-owner in November, won the first qualifying race over Austin Cindric, the driver who replaced him in Team Penske’s No. 2 Ford.

Shortly after, Buescher won duel No. 2 when Team Penske’s Joey Logano wrecked from the lead after an aggressive attempt to block Buescher on the final lap.

It was his first NASCAR win of any kind since his initial Cup victory at Pocono Raceway in 2016.

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The cherry on top: They were the first points-paying races involving NASCAR’s new Next Gen car, an initiative seen as a way to level the competitive playing field.

“It’s just really good,” Keselowski said in his winner’s press conference. “It’s just so important. There’s a lot of guys and gals on my team that have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race in five, six years now, five and a half, something like that. That’s any kind of race.

“It’s really important to get that winning habit built up, and the only way you can really do that is to go win. That builds confidence in each other and builds expectations. Not just the expectations, that’s probably not the right word, it builds a reality that those expectations can happen. We had a really poor showing at the Clash, and we needed something to offset that, and this is a great offset for that.”

For Buescher, who first climbed in a Roush vehicle in 2011, the night also represented a “reset.” He also described it as a “massive stepping-stone.”

“I think when you look back at our organization and our shop and how everything is getting cleaned up, not necessarily restructured but reorganizing, and a lot of that comes from the Next Gen,” Buescher said. “The car is going to be an equalizer of sorts, right, that we’ve seen. The field has gotten tighter. … I know we’ll have little tweaks along the way as we keep going as an industry, but it’s going to be something that’s going to put us right in the ballpark.”

There’s also areas of innovation outside the car, such as RFK Racing’s hiring of motorsports analytics expert David Smith.

Once public data is now owned by RFK Racing.

“That’s something that wasn’t thought of that was open information to anybody in the garage that was willing to go after it,” Buescher said. “It’s a big step for us to not only have that info and have that amount of knowledge, but it also takes it away from others.”

That kind of thinking likely would have been welcomed by one driver half a decade ago.

Welcome Back

RFK Racing’s big night occurred simultaneously with a blast from its past.

Biffle, now 52, successfully raced his way into the Daytona 500, locking himself into his first Cup start since 2016.

He did it with NY Racing, a team that hadn’t competed in NASCAR since 2018.

Biffle, driving the No. 44, finished 13th one lap down after running out of gas in the final laps.

That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for his success or his former team’s.

“I’m so happy for that organization,” Biffle said. “I still have a ton of friends there. I talked to Jack for probably 20 minutes in the garage. I respect Brad’s decision to go over there and try and help that organization and become part owner. That was a huge risk for Brad to leave and go take that on.

“I think it’s great for those guys. They needed that.”

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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1911_Bandit

I have to back up my truck just a little. I have never been willing to give Brad K any credit for his success … it has always gone to the team or the owner. After his first race with Roush – Fenway, I am convinced that the guy has talent and really brings something to the table. Nice work, Kes.

Last edited 5 months ago by 1911_Bandit
Echo

You should learn a little about Brad, the person. He made his own way into Nascar. Look at the company he created, KAM, it is highly successful but you won’t find out a lot because all of the work is for the department of defense and in the space field. He may not win again this season, but he surrounds himself with very smart people and eventually, he will turn this team around.

Bill B

I think the title is a bit much. I like Brad and I think he can help Roush get back to be a top tiered team, but I think it’s a little early to draw any conclusions from a 60 lap exhibition race at a restrictor plate track with new cars. Let’s wait a couple more weeks before we start talking about how bright their future is.

Echo

I agree it’s too early. But eventually he will turn Rousch around. I just read an article where Jack said he is already impressed on the way Brad looks at things constantly. Also Jack said that Brad is his heir apparent.

MikeinAz

The second race sure was a lot more enjoyable to watch. There was actually some competitive racing versus the follow the leader single-file racing in the first one. The best part of the first one was that the Hendrick teams didn’t win. It was great seeing Brad win in a Roush car, too.

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