Roush Fenway Racing’s fortunes hinge on redesigned Ford car

USA TODAY Sports

After a lackluster 2013, Roush Fenway Racing has work to do this offseason.

An organization that has a pair of drivers qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and a third who was named Rookie of the Year would be a considered a banner year for just about any other NASCAR team. Not so for Roush Fenway Racing, which by its lofty standards had what can be described as a subpar 2013 season.

2013 In the Rearview

After a year that was disastrous on all levels in 2012 including him getting shutout of Victory Lane and missing the Chase, Carl Edwards rebounded nicely last season. He broke his nearly two-year winless drought with an early season victory at Phoenix and followed that with another win at Richmond in September, which gave him the regular season points crown.

Once the Chase began, however, the consistency that was Edwards' trademark in the first 26 races completely vanished for the year's final 10. His average finish dropped four positions from 12.3 to 16.9, as he was besieged with mechanical failures, assorted bad luck and just general lack of performance. Not surprisingly, he finished last in the year-end championship order.

Like his teammate, Greg Biffle also easily made the Chase but battled inconsistency in the playoffs. Outside of a third-place run at Dover, his most noticeable moment involved him accosting Jimmie Johnson post-race at Martinsville. In fact, Biffle led all of nine laps in the Chase and had just three top-10s collectively.

It wasn't spectacular, but the year turned in by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was enough for him to collect Rookie of the Year honors. As expected, he showed improvement as the year progressed with three top-10s in the final 11 races and a near-win at Talladega.

2014 Driver Lineup

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford); Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Nationwide Insurance/Zest/Fifth Third Bank Ford); Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal/Subway/Kellogg's Ford)

Key Changes

The only change of note in the Roush camp this offseason is a new crew chief for Stenhouse. He will now be teamed with Mike Kelley, who replaces Scott Graves. Stenhouse and Kelley worked together in the Nationwide Series where the two won a pair of titles in 2011 and ‘12.

Biggest Offseason Question

The majority of Roush's struggles in 2013 can be traced directly to the problems the Ford teams battled as a whole. Continually outpaced by its rivals, Ford finished a distant third in the manufacturers championship behind Chevrolet and Toyota. And on the year, drivers with a blue oval on their hood won just six of 36 races.

To decipher the inadequacies of the Ford Fusion would go a long way to solving the woes Roush experienced a year ago. On that front the manufacturer has redesigned its nose with the intent of improving aerodynamics and airflow into the engine. The old design tended to collect trash on the grille, which caused the engine to overheat and in turn, created some terse exchanges between Edwards and Biffle over the definition of being a good teammate.

Another area that could improve the performance of Roush is increased cohesiveness with Penske Racing the other mainstay team in the Ford stable. The manufacturer brought Penske on last year to give them another championship-caliber team, and stressed the importance of both outfits working as one. And while the dynamic between the two teams did improve, information wasn't always flowing freely between two, especially initially.

Outlook

Although 2013 may have been a down year, there is no reason to think Roush won't rebound this season. Edwards and Biffle are proven commodities that should be expected to be Chase participants and find the winner's circle a handful of times. And it's natural to assume that Stenhouse will continue the growth he showed in the second half of his rookie campaign. It wouldn't be too farfetched to view him as a darkhorse Chase contender if all goes to plan.

All of this, however, is contingent on Ford and whether those changes to the frontend prove to be a difference maker. And this as of now is the great unknown.

More from SB Nation:

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Michael Waltrip Racing looking to move past turbulent 2013 season

Hendrick Motorsports wants more of the same in 2014

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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