In light of its 1-2 finish at Bristol this past Sunday, is Roush Fenway Racing really on the rebound?
Carl Edwards’ win and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s runner-up finish was just part of a Ford juggernaut that saw five of the blue ovals in the top 12 finishers.
And in the bigger picture, is that finish as well as what Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski did in the first three races, a sign that Ford as a whole is back on top of its game?
“Ford has deserved this kind of result for their effort,” RFR team co-owner Jack Roush said after Bristol. “They’ve committed a lot of engineering resources to us. They give us a lot of support with cars and trucks for support vehicles and things, and we had not been able to do as much for them as we needed to in the last six-month. I was glad that we could get Carl into the Chase and look forward to getting Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) qualified for these last 10 races and Greg (Biffle) as well.”
Biffle finished 12th, but there was also one of the best overall performances in several years by both Richard Petty Motorsports drivers, Aric Almirola (career-best third) and teammate Marcos Ambrose (fifth).
By comparison, Keselowski (finished 14th and took over the Sprint Cup points lead after Bristol) and Logano (20th) may not been quite as strong as their other Ford-powered associates, but they’ve both had outstanding starts to the season nonetheless.
Still, with Ford accounting for more than a third of the top-20 finishes at Bristol, it certainly leaves optimism for this week’s race at Fontana.
Since the progressively banked Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Speedway) hosted its first Sprint Cup race in 1997, Ford quickly won 10 of the first 18 Cup races there.
But it’s admittedly been a struggle since Carl Edwards was the last Ford driver to win there back in February 2008.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Fontana track was built as a near-replica of Michigan International Speedway, where Ford has been most successful in the Cup series with 35 wins. Edwards’ win at Bristol gives Ford 34 all-time wins there.
Put all that together, and why wouldn’t Ford be considered a serious threat to win Sunday’s race? And is what we saw at Bristol and the three races before it just another sign that Ford has overcome many of its 2013 struggles and is poised to grab for even greater achievements going forward in 2014?
“It has been a very long winter for us,” team owner Jack Roush said after Sunday’s race. “We made some changes and built some new cars over the winter and revised our strategies a little bit as far as the way we do our engineering and the way that manifests itself in what the race cars are and we’re still working with our process.
“This thing is becoming so sophisticated and expanding so much with so many people doing new things that hadn’t been done before it’s a little hard to get all the job descriptions worked out.”
Veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig added that Edwards’ win was both the culmination of much of the hard work Roush referred to, but also puts Edwards in contention to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
In other words, the future is starting to look very positive for RFR.
“It was a good win,” Fennig said. “We really need that as hard as everybody has been working this winter. It paid off.
“It’s about winning. That’s the way that we build around Roush Racing. We go out to win, so that’s what we’re striving for. … When we go out to California we’re gonna go shooting after that win. Nothing is gonna change our philosophy.”
With Keselowski winning at Las Vegas and Edwards at Bristol, Ford is going for its third consecutive Sprint Cup win at Fontana. The last time the blue oval folks won three consecutive races was in June 2005, when they swept Dover (Biffle won), Pocono (Edwards won) and Michigan (Biffle won again).
Admittedly, though, as good as they’ve been performing thus far in 2014, Ford drivers could have problems at Fontana, too. Biffle (2005) and Edwards (2008) are the only current Ford drivers to have won Cup races there.
But Edwards hopes to change that nearly six-year drought on Sunday.
“(Prior to Bristol) I’ve been a little bit jealous of those guys that have wins this early in the season,” Edwards said. “I was thinking I can’t imagine what that must feel like to be able to come to a race track like this and have all that pressure off of you (after a win that potentially qualifies a driver for this year’s Chase), so now we’ll be able to go have some fun. I’m really excited about the next 22 races. That will be a blast.
“The first step is you have to win. I think we’re proving that right now. You’re going to have to have a win, I believe, to be in the Chase, so now that we’ve checked that box, we need to go get another win and then I think we’ll be guaranteed to be in it. Just to have a win this early is a huge relief. It’s gonna make California and Martinsville, it’s gonna be really fun to go there.”
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