By Steve Mickey
The 2016 season has been over for several weeks but the business of racing has never been busier. This is the one sport that if you are satisfied where your team’s performance and continue to do business “as usual”, the chances are that you will soon find yourself behind. The Sprint Cup Series (soon to be the Monster Energy Series) is so competitive that every team begins preparing for the following season long before the current season is over.
Some of the more successful organizations may change personnel or how they prepare their cars during the course of the season but those teams that struggle either with their on track performance or in attracting sponsorship dollars are forced to make bigger decisions once the season is over.
In 2005, Roush Fenway Racing had five drivers in the 10 driver Chase field. Things were great at RFR as it was the flagship organization for Ford and was winning races along with a couple of Sprint Cup championship. In the recently completed Chase, RFR did not have a driver in the expanded 16-driver field.
The on track results have now left the once proud organization to begin trying to return to winning races and competing for the title. RFR is no longer the poster boy for Ford’s involvement in the sport as Penske Racing is now the flag bearer for the blue oval as both of its teams made the Chase this season and both won races. Adding to RFR’s slide down in Ford’s pecking order is the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing’s four teams to the lineup beginning in 2017 after making the move from Chevrolet.
The 2016 RFR lineup that included veteran Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Trevor Bayne not only failed to make the Chase but did not post a season finish of 20th or better. Owner Jack Roush wasted little time once the season was over in announcing the changes that were going to be made in an attempt once again make the organization competitive. Beginning next season the team will only field two cars as RFR and Biffle parted ways with no plans to fill his vacant seat for the 2017 season. Both Stenhouse and Bayne will return next season but Biffle’s departure left RFR with a Charter that it would not be using.
Charters guarantee a team a spot in the starting field of every race and it also gives the team some financial stability as it does guarantee some money. An owner can do what he wants with his Charter and that includes leasing it to another owner with NASCAR’s approval.
RFR had loaned its most talented young driver in Chris Buescher along with crew chief Bob Osborne to Front Row Motorsports for the 2016 season and the pair were able to make it into the Chase in a Ford by winning a rain shortened race. Buescher is still under contract with RFR but since the downsizing, there isn’t a seat for him but he will still be racing at the Cup level but with another team and manufacturer.
Roush has loaned his Charter to JTG Daughtery for the upcoming season along with Buescher but he will no longer be behind the wheel of a Ford as his new team competes with Chevrolets and has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The plans no doubt include bringing Buescher back one day to RFR but the direction of that return is anything but clear at this time.
This is a sport where it only takes one season for an organization to slip back in the pack but it is also the sport where the road back to the top can be much longer. Roush Fenway has started to take the steps to turn it around but it still isn’t clear if all of the pieces are there to get the job done.