|Questions about Roush Racing should start at the top|
Over the years Roush moved into sports cars and his team eventually dominated the TransAm for Ford. From there they moved into NASCAR, once again rising to the top.
But again, that was a long, long time ago. It's been awhile since Roush won regularly and the team's slow start this year has people wondering if maybe the best years of Roush Racing are in the past.
Of the 779 Sprint Cup laps run so far this year, Roush Fords have led 10. Ten. None of the Roush cars even threatened the Top 10 this past weekend at Las Vegas until Carl Edwards rolled the dice on gas mileage, eventually finishing 5th.
It’s even worse on the Nationwide side of things, were Roush drivers haven’t led a single lap. None. Zero. Nada.
This is coming off a 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season Roush would like to forget. Although Edwards won two races and Greg Biffle one as both drivers qualified for The Chase, neither contended for the title. In fact, a Roush driver hasn’t won a Cup title in 10 years. And while Chevrolet won 16 races on its way to an 11th straight manufacturer championship last year and Toyota was winning 14 events, Ford cars, managed just six wins and fell to third in the manufacturer standings.
Roush defenders will argue that the 2014 season is only three races old. But they’ve been on three different types of race tracks – one superspeedway, one flat track and 1.5-mile intermediate layout – and only one thing has been consistent, the Roush Fords have been nowhere to be seen. A year ago you might have chalked it up to being a bad year for Ford. But not this year.
The Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have been consistently out front. Keselowski nearly won at Daytona and the Penske Fords swept the front row in qualifying at Phoenix and Las Vegas, with Keselowski winning this past weekend. And the Penske cars have been just as strong in the Nationwide series.
So what’s wrong with Roush Fenway is a legitimate question. And it needs to start at the top.
What’s up with Jack Roush?
Stubborn and opinionated, Roush, who turns 72 next month, has been the very visible, hands-on leader of the NASCAR team for more than 25 years. “Fists on” leadership Edwards once said.
While he insists he hasn’t lost his passion for the sport, he also talks about stepping back from day-to-day oversight and even – gasp – not going to every race.
We’ve seen it happen often before in NASCAR and auto racing in general. The success of a team, even a well-funded team, depends heavily on the commitment and drive of the team owner. In business, a CEO’s legacy is often judged in part on the leadership he leaves behind, but that hasn’t been in the case in racing. Once a race team’s ownership begins to lose the passion or whatever you want to call it, the team begins to drift. It happened at the biggest and best teams; at Holman-Moody, the Wood Brothers and Petty Enterprises. It was happening at Richard Childress Racing until a couple of grandsons revitalized Childress.
The Great Recession hit all of auto racing hard, Roush included. In 2007 he was forced to sell a 50 percent interest in the team to John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Sports. The team went from four cars to three for the 2012 season and the next year let Matt Kenseth go over to the “dark side,” as Roush termed the driver’s move to Toyota’s Joe Gibbs team. Rather than replace Kenseth with another proven Cup star, Roush promoted Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., from the Nationwide series. Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide champ, was ready for the promotion by most accounts, but has failed to produce in Cup competition.
So where does Roush Fenway Racing go from here? It’s bound to be a hot topic in the weeks ahead and for as long as it takes Roush cars to start running up front again – if they ever do. It starts this week at Bristol. Edwards, and especially Biffle, usually performs well at the track.
Only one thing will stop the questions about Roush Fenway Racing. In the words of former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, as passionate an owner as there ever has been; “Just win baby. Just win.”
Final thought: Is there a role for Mark Martin at Roush? Seems like there should be.