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After being embarrassed two months earlier at Michigan International Speedway, a track Roush Fenway once considered its own private playground, Jack Roush and his team had gone all-in prior to the return to the facility, burning one of its precious test days in an attempt to right the ship. After all, Michigan probably provided the best opportunity for a Greg Biffle victory and a place in the Chase where he would join teammate Carl Edwards.
Biffle and the team did run better. No better than 10th at the finish, however. He never led a lap, never challenged for the lead.
Meanwhile, Penske Ford driver Joey Logano started second, led the most laps and eventually finished fourth, first in class. Logano now has nine Top Five finishes through the first 23 races of the season, the same as the entire Roush Fenway team.
The MIS finish brought an end to a tough couple of months at Roush Fenway Racing, Ford’s former standard bearer. It started with the first Michigan race, when all three team cars were more than a lap behind before the race reached its halfway point. It was followed by the announcement, literally on the grid of the Brickyard 400, that Edwards would not be back with the team next season. Edwards is going to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he’ll join another Roush refugee, Matt Kenseth, “on the dark side,” as Roush refers to Toyota team. While Edwards will finish the year with Roush Fenway and is in the Chase thanks to a road course win at Sonoma, he gives himself little chance contending.
The Edwards announcement was followed by two other off-track moves made the week before Michigan. 3M, which had sponsored Roush cars for 10 years, confirmed it was jumping ship to Jeff Gordon.
Then the Wood Brothers announced it had signed Penske development driver Ryan Blaney to drive its car on limited schedule in 2015, replacing Trevor Bayne, who is moving to Roush.
Even more telling, the Wood Brothers announced they would now get their cars from Penske Racing, a relationship it previously had with Roush. The Wood Brothers depend on Ford dollars for even a partial schedule and there’s no way the team would have made the move to Penske without the encouragement or blessing of the manufacturer.
And it’s not just in Cup racing where Penske has eclipsed Roush. Even with Chris Buescher’s victory at Mid-Ohio in a Roush Ford this past weekend, it has been primarily Penske cars carrying Ford’s flag in the Nationwide series. Blaney, running a Ford truck fielded by Brad Keselowski, has mounted the manufacturer’s lone challenge in the Camping World Truck Series.
It’s not, of course, impossible for Roush Fenway to stage a comeback, although this year is quickly slipping away. A 2015 sponsorship announcement is expected soon for Biffle, who recently re-upped with the team. And he may yet make the Chase this year. He has three straight Top 10 finishes and has moved into the final qualifying spot based on points, primarily because Dale Earnhardt Jr. drilled Kyle Larson on pit road and knocked him out of the spot. But while the Roush cars perform well at Bristol, Biffle has not run particularly well there and has never won a short track race – anywhere.
At times, Biffle already seems to be talking about 2015.
“We see a lot of things when we step back,” Biffle said before the Michigan race. “We see a lot of mistakes we made, and it's simply not -- it wasn't blaring out. You have to pick a direction, and it's not from a lack of effort. Everybody has been working hard and these things happen to the best of race teams.
“This sport is up and down, and one thing I will say is this Roush Fenway team, we've never been down two years in a row, and we missed it a little bit at the beginning of the season. Our last two weeks, three weeks have showed we've made some serious improvement, and I feel that's going to continue to show its hand these last races, whether we make the Chase or not. I think you're going to really see our team become more and more and more competitive right up until the end of the season.
“A little too late, but certainly that's part of the sport, and you've just got to keep digging and keep trying to get those wins and then put yourself in position for 2015.