Jack Roush has been a NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner since 1988.
In those 27 years, he has fielded 135 race-winning cars for Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan and has won two championships with Kenseth and Busch.
His cars have completed nearly one million laps in cup competition and have led more than 38,000 circuits, compiling 1316 top-10 finishes and 733 top-fives.
After 18 races in 2015, those wins and championships and gaudy numbers seem like ancient history for Ford’s once-flagship organization. In those 18 races, Roush Fenway Racing drivers Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne have led a grand total of nine laps (eight by Biffle, one by Stenhouse) and have combined for a whopping two top-five finishes.
Last week’s race at Kentucky marked only the third time all year that the Roush trio finished in the top 20. Stenhouse is 26th in points. Bayne is 25th and Biffle is leading the Roush charge, currently residing in 18th.
Not exactly the same team that challenged Hendrick and Gibbs for championships.
Roush parted ways with Busch in 2005, less than a year after winning a championship and a little over a year after Burton left the organization for Richard Childress Racing (Edwards replaced him). Martin left Roush after 2006, ostensibly to retire.
McMurray returned to Ganassi Racing after the 2009 season when NASCAR capped team owners at four cars. Lack of sponsorship and results saw Ragan gone after 2011. Roush stalwart Kenseth headed to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2013 season followed by Edwards this year.
All but Martin and Burton are still racing. Ex-Roush drivers have four wins in 2015. Penske Racing has clearly supplanted Roush as the Ford flagship team (even though the Penske Fords have had trouble finding victory lane since early in the season).
The team knew it had a problem with its cars going into 2015, so Roush brought in a new lead engineer and new manager for its Sprint Cup operation.
“When you don’t know what the problem is or you don’t know where the speed is at, you can only predict,” Biffle said. “A prediction is either right or wrong, so you’ve got a 50-50 chance. We didn’t go in the wrong direction, we just didn’t find all that we thought we found.”
While the Cup teams have struggled in 2015, the Xfinity Series teams have found success. Roush has three wins in the series and all four of its teams are in the top 10 in points.
So, it’s not that they don’t know how to build race cars or run race teams.
The answers are not easy for the iconic organization. In 2010, Geoff Smith, who had run the business side Roush Racing since 1990, retired. Smith was replaced by Steve Newmark, who has managed to keep all of the teams fully sponsored.
But in addition to the driver departures, Newmark has seen 3M, Crown Royal, UPS and others jump ship, either to other teams or out of the sport.
Roush used to be really good at identifying and developing drivers. Busch, Biffle and Edwards all started in the truck series with Roush and worked their way up to the cup level. He even had Kyle Busch on board before a NASCAR rule change put his career on hold in 2001 because he wasn’t yet 18.
Lately, the development train has derailed a bit. Erik Darnell, Colin Braun, Danny O’Quinn Jr. and Todd Kluever haven’t quite been exactly what Roush expects.
The new crop of drivers that Roush has may make everyone forget those names (because I am sure you all remembered them).
Chris Beuscher leads the Xfinity points and has been solid in some suspect equipment with the Front Row Motorsports Sprint Cup team in spot duty.
Bubba Wallace fell to Roush’s Xfinity team this past offseason when Kyle Busch Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing had no sponsorship for the five-time truck series winner. If Stenhouse or Bayne do not show any improvement, we may be seeing Wallace and Beuscher in the cup series sooner rather than later.
Something has to give, and soon, or we may be seeing the twilight of what has been one of NASCAR’s best organizations.
As a guy who grew up as a Ford fan, I would hate to see Roush join Robert Yates and only be involved in racing as an engine supplier.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column about auto racing. Follow him on twitter @andy_cagle or email him at [email protected]