Will Roush Fenway Racing’s demise be complete in Richmond?

Image courtesy of @NASCAR.
Image courtesy of @NASCAR.

Image courtesy of @NASCAR.

It’s been a long season for Roush Fenway Racing, and things are about to get much worse. Just one race remains in the NASCAR regular season and there is no guarantee that a Roush team will clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The only chance for an RFR car to make the field? Win and get in.

Since the Chase started back in 2004, Roush has entered a minimum of two cars into NASCAR’s postseason. 10 years ago, all five drivers made the Chase when Greg Biffle came just short of winning a third straight title for RFR.

Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch all cut their teeth in RFR cars and winning championships. Or, in Edwards’ case, coming as close as possible to a title. Young drivers flourished in Roush Fords and eventually became wily veterans at the top of the sport.

Those days are long gone now.

Carl Edwards is flourishing in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing with two wins heading into the Chase. Image courtesy of @ToyotaRacing.

Carl Edwards is flourishing in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing with two wins heading into the Chase. Image courtesy of @ToyotaRacing.

Edwards and Kenseth have easily earned Chase berths with a combined five wins with Joe Gibbs Racing, unarguably the most dominant team in the sport heading into the Chase. Busch has cruised to two wins of his own and is part of a Stewart-Haas Racing championship tandem with Kevin Harvick.

Even with 16 spots—six more than the initial Chase—Roush is unable to get just one car in. Biffle, the only driver over 28 years old, has been frustrated all season with the progress made by the team and finally shared those emotions back in July at New Hampshire.

“We look at the same stats you’re looking at and we look around us and the cars we’re racing with and it’s definitely frustrating,” Biffle said. “At the same time, we’re working as hard as we can to try to figure out what we need for speed—what we have to do with these cars. To be quite honest with you, we don’t know what to do to them and we don’t know where the speed is at so it makes it really difficult to fix it.”

Greg Biffle has been frustrated all season with his team's performance. With only three top-10 finishes in 2015, he has reason to be baffled. Image courtesy of @NASCARONFOX.

Greg Biffle has been frustrated all season with his team’s performance. With only three top-10 finishes in 2015, he has reason to be baffled. Image courtesy of @NASCARONFOX.

The future isn’t entirely negative for Roush. Chris Buescher and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. are thriving in the Xfinity Series. However, finding room for both is difficult right now after investing so much in developing Bayne and Stenhouse. If Biffle, the oldest driver in the Cup Series, decides to retire, a spot would open for one driver.

But without a win on Saturday night at Richmond, this season is essentially a wash. So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Well, not really. During the RIR race in April, none of the three Roush drivers finished inside the top 20. Biffle wound up 21st with Trevor Bayne behind him in 24th.

How about next year? If NASCAR does decide to move to the low aero package used at Kentucky and Darlington, maybe RFR will thrive again. Unfortunately, that small sample size also shows negative results for Roush with average finishes from Biffle (17), Bayne (20.5) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (24.5) all less than desirable.

“We’ve been working really hard. It’s not a lack at all from my guys,” Bayne said at California earlier this year. “We just haven’t qualified well at all this year as a group, have been slower on our fast runs. In the race we can run top-15 speeds, the problem with qualifying so far back is the leaders are in clean air we have to come from so far back you go a lap down early and you can never get it back.”

Regardless of how Roush qualifies at Richmond this weekend, the only thing on every driver’s mind has to be a win. Otherwise, all three cars will miss the Chase and truly spell the “slow death” of the team that Biffle hinted back in March.

 

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