It’s no secret that Roush-Fenway Racing is struggling. Their flagship driver, Carl Edwards, bolted for Joe Gibbs in the offseason. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, the 2 time Xfinity series champion, is looking more and more like a bust. Trevor Bayne, who once seemed so full of promise after winning the 2011 Daytona 500, has failed to crack the top 15 in 3 years, including this year’s rookie campaign with Roush. Greg Biffle, the team’s resident veteran and most competitive driver, appears ready to retire once his contract ends. Just ten years ago, Roush was the best team in Nascar. Its 5 drivers all qualified for the Chase and combined for 15 wins. What happened?
Roush’s historic 2005 season was a curse in disguise. After all 5 of the team’s drivers qualified for the Chase, Nascar took steps to prevent that from ever happening again. Nascar restricted teams to running a maximum of 4 cars. This rule change affected exactly one team–Roush Racing, which was forced to shrink to 4 teams after 2009. The 2005 season was also Kurt Busch’s last ride with the team–after being pulled over for reckless driving in Phoenix, Busch was suspended and later fired and missed the last 2 races of the year. Busch bolted to Penske and Roush replaced him with the less successful and less flashy Jamie McMurray. The team’s fortunes slowly waned–Jack Roush had to get an investment from Fenway Sports Group(the owner of the Red Sox and Liverpool) in 2007.
Roush’s decline didn’t come just from a shrinking team. Jack Roush, traditionally regarded as an astute judge of talent, misfired on several of his picks for drivers. Jamie McMurray spent three years driving for the team after Kurt Busch left. While Busch won 12 races and a championship during his tenure, Jamie Mac took just two races and never finished in the top 15 in the points. McMurray showed flashes of potential, always threatening to break out, but he never did. After Mark Martin left the team, Roush replaced him with up and coming driver David Ragan. Ragan was selected because of his performance in The Gong Show, a televised competition between the development drivers in the Roush stable. Although Ragan won the competition, he had little success in the Sprint Cup–in 5 seasons with Roush he finished outside the top 20 in points 4 times and posted just 1 win. Ragan and McMurray’s failures sent Roush into a bit of a skid–after 2011, Roush fired Ragan and shut down the #6 car, shrinking his team to just 3 drivers.
The 2011 season, where Carl Edwards finished 2nd to Tony Stewart in points, was Roush’s best season in the last 5 years. Since them, the team has continued to stall. Longtime flagship driver Matt Kenseth left Roush for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, the same year that Nascar introduced the new Generation 6 cars. While Kenseth thrived with a the new cars and a new team, Roush struggled. Although the team’s new driver Ricky Stenhouse won Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, he regressed dramatically in 2014, even failing to qualify at Talladega. Carl Edwards, the team’s best racer, followed Kenseth to Gibbs for the 2015 season. Greg Biffle, the face of the current team, continues to age and become less competitive.
Unless Roush can turn it around, the team could end up following a similar path to Robert Yates Racing. One of Nascar’s strongest teams for 20 years, Yates fell off a cliff in the mid-2000’s as driver Dale Jarrett grew older and the team failed to find any young talent to stay competitive. Yates eventually shut its doors in 2009. Hopefully for Roush, the team can turn it around and return to Nascar’s highest levels.