By CHRISTOPHER SORBEY
Hours after the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series season concluded, a major announcement was made out of the Roush Fenway Racing camp.
After nearly two decades of service Greg Biffle announced he and Roush Fenway Racing mutually agreed to part ways, effective immediately, thus ending a 19-year business relationship that included 19 Cup wins and championships in both the Xfinity & Camping World Truck series, respectively.
In addition to Biffle’s declaration of independence, Roush Fenway Racing delivered another shocker by relieving former championship winning crew chief Robbie Reiser of his general managerial duties, a position he held for nine seasons.
While cleaning out the closet might be a harrowing experience, it was an absolute necessity for this once elite organization.
Carrying a two year winless drought across the board warrants change and in a hurry, but can Roush’s young bucks Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne change the course of fate heading into a critical 2017 campaign?
Honestly this is where the rubber meets the road for Jack Roush’s stable of young bucks.
Winning a race is paramount for Roush Fenway Racing in 2017, regardless of which driver scores the victory, putting a car in the chase following a two year drought can move mountains for a team on the mend.
The loss of Biffle certainly will have an immediate impact on Roush Fenway Racing for the first quarter of the season, as this will be the first time in nearly a decade the team won’t have a veteran presence to lean on. Biffle’s departure gives way for a Stenhouse coming out party in 2017.
Despite the shortcomings of his teammates in 2016, Stenhouse manifested career bests in top-fives (4) and top-10 finishes (6) en route to his best finish in the standings (21) three years removed from his rookie season in cup.
Simply, things haven’t always gone according to plan on the Cup side for the former two-time Xfinity Series champion, but there’s strong reason to believe he’s coming into his own. Stenhouse showed tremendous poise in the closing laps of a race at Bristol last August, and had the race gone for at least a few more laps, I’m absolutely certain he would have passed eventual race winner Kevin Harvick for his first career win.
Building on last season’s momentum certainly will dictate Stenhouse’s progress in 2017 as he begins to develop chemistry with new pit boss Brian Pattie.
Working with a proven winner like Pattie constitutes a positive change for the #17 team; not only is Pattie a winning crew chief in the Cup Series, he also was the driving force behind Clint Bowyer’s career best season back in 2012.
On the surface, making frequent crew chief changes usually doesn’t always equal huge results, but in this case, pairing veteran intellect with a guy destined to finally shatter the glass ceiling will pay dividends once things are all said and done.
On the flip side, former Daytona 500 champion Bayne’s Cup journey remains a multifarious enigma.
While the once highly touted prospect may have orchestrated one of the all-time gargantuan upsets in NASCAR history back in 2011, it’s been anything but smooth sailing since.
After years of competing in the Xfinity Series and gaining valuable seat time with the Wood Bros. in Cup, Roush finally granted Bayne the promotion he desired since his Daytona 500 triumph.
Roush would resurrect the popular #6 car once piloted by Hall of Famer Mark Martin in 2015 with Trevor Bayne as it’s driver; however, Bayne’s first season in Cup as the driver of the famous #6 would be anything but legendary. Much like the rest of the organization, Bayne struggled profoundly in 2015, positing only two top-10 finishes in 36 races.
Determined to not let Bayne fall without a net, Roush paired Bayne with veteran pit boss Matt Puccia in 2016, and while the results didn’t exactly set the world ablaze, Bayne saw significant improvement, posting his first top-five finish since his 2011 Daytona 500 win at Bristol in the spring of 2016. Bayne would back that up with an additional top-five finish at Daytona in July and increase his overall top-10 finishes for the season.
Roush Fenway Racing announced that sponsorship of the #6 car remains healthy heading into 2017, as Advocare agreed to a multiyear extension starting this upcoming season.
Parallel to his teammate Stenhouse, Bayne remains one of the young drivers that are on the cusp of achieving enormous heights in the Monster Energy cup series.
The ultimate key to their forward progress is remaining patient while they work on re-establishing Roush Fenway Racing’s reputation as one the elite organizations in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Verdict- Roush Fenway Racing is trending in the right direction heading into the 2017 season and beyond.