clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Roush Fenway Racing continues slide to irrelevancy

New, comment

Once an organization that fielded five championship-contending teams, Roush Fenway Racing is now reduced to two mid-pack teams.

Team owner Jack Roush and driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stand on pit road during qualifying for the May race at Talladega.
Team owner Jack Roush and driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stand on pit road during qualifying for the May race at Talladega.
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

If this reads like a Roush Fenway Racing obituary, it's because in many aspects it is.

The days of Roush Fenway being a championship caliber organization are long gone. Roush Fenway drivers constituting 50 percent of the 10-driver Chase playoff field (as it did in 2005) is but a distant memory, a bygone period when Ford's then-No. 1 outfit accumulated wins in abundance and perennially contended for championships.

And now? Many weeks a Roush car just finishing in the top 10 warrants reason for effusive praise. It last won a race in 2014 and none of its drivers earned a postseason berth the past two seasons.

That Roush Fenway has not only slipped from the top perch of NASCAR's teams, but fallen with a resounding thud into the abyss of mediocrity became even more apparent when it announced on Tuesday it would downsize from running three Cup Series teams fulltime to just two, and loan promising sophomore driver Chris Buescher to Chevrolet-supported JTG Daugherty Racing.

These moves necessitated by lack of sponsorship, which coincided with Roush Fenway experiencing a gradual performance decline in recent years.

In NASCAR, the biggest commodities are speed and results. If a team possesses one, it greatly helps generate the other, allowing the cycle of success to continue largely uninterrupted. Yet if either falters, it triggers a game of dominoes that can effect a team's stability.

Exactly the state Roush Fenway currently finds itself.

Such devolution from extraordinary to ordinary cannot be pinpointed to a single cataclysmic event, though two notable occurrences standout.

Within a three-year span, Roush Fenway saw Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, each A-quality talents, depart for the greener pastures of Joe Gibbs Racing. Although drivers chasing opportunities elsewhere frequently happens, and often little a team can do to prevent a driver from leaving, that wasn't the case in the Kenseth and Edwards situations.

Frustrated with Roush Fenway's inability to secure steady sponsorship and a lack of willingness to pay the market rate for someone of his stature, Kenseth bolted following the 2012 season. As for Edwards, he eschewed JGR's advances in 2011 to re-sign with Roush Fenway. But when the organization began slipping, Edwards realized it was best not to waste his prime years driving substandard equipment and when JGR offered a second chance to jump ship in 2015, he took the life preserver.

Not surprisingly, both have since flourished. Kenseth has won 14 times in his four years with Toyota's flagship team, while Edwards has five victories in his two years and nearly captured the 2016 championship.

What Roush Fenway did to replace Kenseth and Edwards was promote from within, a strategy it used to great acclaim previously. In each instance, however, Kenseth's and Edwards' replacements, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne, respectively, have failed to demonstrate they are worthy successors.

Stenhouse has all of 17 top-10 finishes in 148 career Cup Series starts, while Bayne has 10 in 130. Part of that, of course, is because Roush Fenway no longer consistently constructs cars like it did during its heyday. Even then, Stenhouse and Bayne still often appear overmatched and rarely do either squeeze out results exceeding their proverbial weight class.

These two are now tasked with helping right the listing Roush Fenway ship, an undertaking neither is suited for. Nor do they have the proper tools to do so.

All of which makes Tuesday's announcement not just the latest set of exigent circumstances to face the team, but the decisive blow signifying that Roush Fenway's best years are firmly behind it, not ahead.