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WAID’S WORLD: Stenhouse Jr. Sparks Resurgence At Roush Fenway

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For a while there, I thought Roush Fenway Racing had gone the way of the dinosaur. It wasn’t in the headlines or on the airwaves and I daresay fans didn’t give it much of a second thought.

No, the team isn’t as extinct as a T-Rex. But in recent years it has slipped off the radar.

There’s a good reason for that.

The Roush organization was once one of the most prominent in Monster Series NASCAR Cup racing. It won races, a couple of championships and featured some of the most noteworthy drivers in stock car racing – like champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch and recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Mark Martin.

But it has dropped onto the B list. It didn’t win a race in 2015 or 2016, which, incidentally, was the last year for veteran driver Greg Biffle. He’s also fallen off the radar.

Once a member of the ranks that included Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, Roush became an also-ran.

Penske, a Ford team like Roush Fenway, has been using Roush Yates-built engines since 2013 and has won poles, races and championships. So it follows that a lack of horsepower hasn’t been a problem at Roush Fenway. Therefore, it must be something else.

Once a five-car goliath, Roush shrank to a two-car team in 2016. The drivers, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., didn’t have much major league experience. But they did not lack in talent.

In fact, Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers, then a Roush associate. And Stenhouse Jr. was the XFINITY Series champion in 2011 and 2012.

But logic dictated needed experience for both would take time.

Perhaps that time has come.

Stenhouse Jr. won his second career race of the season in the wild Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. In so doing he displayed his skill at plate racing as he also won at Talladega this year.

Stenhouse Jr. is the first driver to win for Roush since Carl Edwards won twice in 2014. He’s also the first Roush driver to crack the top 20 in points since Edwards finished ninth, also in 2014.

Stenhouse Jr. is 16th in points but the important thing is that his two victories put Roush in the playoff for the first time since, yes, 2014.

Roush, known as “The Cat in the Hat,” was one of NASCAR’s most hands-on owners until he decided to step back in let team president Steve Newmark and operations director Tommy Wheeler run the day-to-day operations.

They appear to be turning things around.

Roush wasn’t at Daytona to see Stenhouse Jr.’s victory. He was on vacation with his daughter at Mt. Rushmore.

“We encouraged him to do it because what he’s done over the last year empowered a group of individuals to run the company,” Wheeler said in a published report from Daytona.

It has begun to pay off.

“I kept my Talladega car and told them to build a new one,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “They build a Ford that was really fast.

“It’s all about prepared race cars. Looking over everything, making sure we’re not missing anything. It’s easy to miss something. You are running so hard each and every lap and it’s all got to play out together.”

Wheeler said the Daytona victory could be credited to Stenhouse Jr.’s skills at plate racing, in which expertly utilizing the high speed draft is paramount.

“Ricky is a hell of a plate driver,” Wheeler said. “You saw what he did. He was at the front.”

The season isn’t over, of course, and we won’t fully know the Roush status until it is.

But with Stenhouse Jr. in the playoffs and Bayne making competitive gains, it would appear Roush Fenway has taken steps to regain its once lofty status.

“Jack made corrections to the steps we were taking because they were flawed,” Wheeler said. “We were going to make changes. The guys are proving they were the right ones.”



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Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.