Jeff Burton left. Kurt Busch left. Mark Martin left. Jamie McMurray left. David Ragan left (well, not by choice but due to lack of sponsorship and downsizing from a four- to a three-car operation).
And then came the biggest defection of all when Matt Kenseth left at the end of 2012.
Although Roush Fenway Racing has been one of the more stable organizations in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it has still lost a number of top-level drivers over the last decade.
Without question, the biggest one – and the one that hurt the most – was Kenseth leaving after the 2012 season and moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, which fields Toyotas, Jack Roush’s avowed No. 1 enemy.
While Kenseth won seven races and almost captured the Sprint Cup championship last season in his first year with JGR, Ford-powered RFR cars floundered. Greg Biffle finished a distant ninth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Carl Edwards was dead last in the expanded 13-driver Chase field and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t even make the Chase, finishing 19th.
Given what Kenseth achieved at JGR, you’d think that Biffle and Edwards, both in contract years in 2014, might be looking for greener pastures – if not for more money, then perhaps for better performing race cars and teams. Let’s face it, Ford just hasn’t had the same kind of power in the last couple of years to challenge Chevrolet and Toyota.
Because he likes to play things close to the vest, Edwards has said little about negotiations to extend his current deal with RFR, but that’s also what he did in 2011, when he had his last round of contract talks.
Back then, there was plenty of frenzied chatter of Edwards going elsewhere – ironically enough, the most often talked about team was indeed JGR – but he chose to remain at RFR for another three years.
Will it be the same this year? Will Edwards remain in the RFR fold? That remains to be seen.
But unless contract talks break down or he becomes unhappy with their progress or direction and threatens to take a hike like he did in 2008, Biffle will likely continue wearing RFR colors for the next three years.
“We’ve been in that for about the last half of last year and over the winter talking with (primary sponsor) 3M, and it’s kind of a mutual negotiation,” Biffle said during Thursday’s Daytona 500 Media Day. “So we’re well on our way to probably announcing something, I would think in the first quarter, but we’ll wait and see.”
You always have to wonder when an athlete involved in contract negotiations adds the “we’ll wait and see” disclaimer, but Biffle then gave a disclaimer to his disclaimer.
When asked if he’s confident he’ll be back at RFR in 2015, Biffle said simply, “Oh yeah.”
Guess we’ll wait and see – unless Kenseth lures The Biff or Cousin Carl, for that matter — over to JGR for that long-rumored fourth Sprint Cup team in 2015.