What’s next for Roush Fenway Racing?

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The news that Carl Edwards would be leaving Roush Fenway Racing, while not a surprise, does raise the inevitable question – what’s next for one of NASCAR’s flagship teams, that’s now hit a bit of a rough patch?

The short answer is rebuild. The longer answer is recover, rebuild and reflect on what’s happened to put them in this position.

While Hendrick Motorsports remains at the top of NASCAR’s heap, and any of Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing or Chip Ganassi Racing has a roadmap and an arsenal of talented drivers who could easily vie for Chase contention this year or next, Roush is down to one bullet left in its gun as it heads into a likely two-to-three year period of recovery.

The team that began with Mark Martin in the late 1980s and rose to become a power in Sprint Cup, ultimately expanding to as many as five teams, has suffered a slow, steady decline over the last five years and now stands at the crossroads of anonymity while it seeks to recapture the glory days.

There’s been instability in sponsorship, driving, and in overall performance level as the field around them has upped their game.

By year, Roush Fenway has won 3 (2009, 2013), 4 (2010), 5 (2011, 2012), and 2 (2014) races over the last six years.

It’s hardly bad, until you consider that in the team’s past, that number was nearly achievable by one driver in a season.

Edwards won nine times on his own in 2008 – the team won 11 races that season. From 2002 through 2008, Roush never won less than six races in a season (in order, 10, 6, 8, 15, 6, 7, 11 wins from 2002 through 2008 for a total of 63 of its 135 Cup victories).

Much has changed since – including a loss of many of its sponsorships, its personnel and its drivers. It’s changed names too – the switch from Roush Racing to Roush Fenway Racing, adding the new partner in John Henry to help keep the team afloat and running.

Gone on the driving front are Martin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, and as of the end of 2014, Edwards.

Gone too on the sponsorship front are Viagra, DeWalt, Exide Batteries, Sharpie/Irwin Tools, Crown Royal/Diageo, and more. They collectively activated and allowed for more funding to the team’s overall program, which could be used for testing and development.

The lone holdover is Greg Biffle (and sponsor 3M, which hasn’t yet renewed for 2015), a Cup veteran since 2003 who’s occasionally had title-contending potential but rarely the consistency in personnel and performance to sustain an entire season-long challenge. Only once, with six wins in 2005, has Biffle won more than twice in a season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., if anything, has regressed in his second year at the Sprint Cup level as he ranks 27th in points through 20 2014 races. Trevor Bayne, who replaces Edwards next year and brings back the No. 6 after a several-year hiatus, is still an unproven commodity at the Cup level despite his shock Daytona 500 win in 2011. Bayne is yet to drive a full season.

The leadership now on the driver lineup will have to come from Biffle, who’s never been “the lead dog” at Roush Fenway despite his dozen-year tenure with the organization. And he has the right temperament to guide the team through stormy waters.

“I had other options but I felt like I spent a lot of time there and we’ve always won races and I feel like we can win races again,” Biffle told Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, regarding his own contract extension with Roush Fenway. “The first half of the season has not been what we wanted. It’s no mystery.

“I don’t think that’s a reason to jump ship and say I’m leaving because we haven’t won a race and we’re not performing the way we should.”

Roush told Pockrass in the same article that this situation is not any different to when Biffle and Edwards were the new kids on the block circa 2004-2005, when Martin was the old guard. He feels confident in Biffle’s ability and the potential of Stenhouse and Bayne to achieve near the heights they have in the Nationwide ranks.

Robbie Reiser, the team’s vice president of competition and a steady hand in the organization since Kenseth was a Cup rookie back in 2000, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dave Kallmann that the 2014 struggles have purely been setup related.

“I would not look at the people issue as a big problem,” Reiser told Kallmann. “The guys have been working hard and giving 100% effort. I couldn’t ask for that to be any better.

“We haven’t hit on whatever we’re looking for. And one of those days we will.”

Meanwhile Stenhouse and Bayne need to hit their potential while other young guns like Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and more seek to establish themselves among Cup’s elite. Logano’s already close and the other two have shown greater flashes this season.

On the surface it seems likely things will get worse before they get better for Roush Fenway Racing, but if they survive this dip and surprise with a performance enhancement in 2015, both they and the sport will be better off for it.

Mansell: Button, Alonso must keep faith in McLaren

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell of Great Britain talks to the media during previews ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Former Formula 1 and CART champion Nigel Mansell has urged Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to keep faith in McLaren-Honda while the team goes through the “growing pains” of a new partnership.

Button and Alonso have both won world titles in the past, but neither have been able to even dream of a similar success in 2015 as the new Honda power unit has limited the team to just 17 points in total from the first 14 races.

Both drivers are set to remain with the team for 2016, but speculation about their future has been rife as a result of Honda’s struggles which even prompted Alonso to publicly vent his frustration over the radio in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Mansell urged both drivers to keep faith in the McLaren-Honda project, believing that it could yet make big strides forward ahead of the 2016 season.

“Jenson deserves an opportunity to see if they can compete and win next year,” Mansell said. “I think this winter Honda can make a breakthrough and McLaren will be working so, so hard.

“They are a fantastic team. They’ve won so much in the past and, to use [McLaren Group CEO] Ron Dennis’s words, they will win again in the future. I have no doubt about that.”

Mansell himself walked away from McLaren after just two races in 1995, its first season with Mercedes engines. After winning the CART title in 1993, Mansell enjoyed four races with Williams in F1 the following year before joining McLaren for the 1995 season.

After missing the first two races of the year due to the car being too narrow, Mansell took part in the San Marino and Spanish Grands Prix before walking away from McLaren due to the car’s lack of pace.

The Briton hinted at his own regrets when discussing the matter, and wished McLaren the very best in its bid to get back to the front of the field.

“Between Alonso and Jenson they will be a formidable team, given the car and the engine to do the job,” Mansell said. “When you go through the growing pains, and I’ve been there a few times myself, stay the course because they could have the best team and best engine.

“They’ll have some really serious regrets if Honda get it right after they’ve gone somewhere else. Hopefully within 12 months they’ll be singing the praises of the team and Honda. I sincerely hope they’ll be winning races in a year’s time.”

WRC: Latvala claims third win of 2015 in France

AJACCIO, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:  Jari Matti Latvala of Finland and Mikka Anttila of Finland celebrate their victory during Day Three of the WRC France on October 4, 2015 in Ajaccio, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Jari-Matti Latvala fought back to claim his third win of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship season, beating Elfyn Evans after the Briton threatened to claim an unlikely victory in France.

For the first time since 2008, the Rally de France took place on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, but was hit by heavy rain and flooding that caused two of the stages to be cancelled.

Championship winner Sebastien Ogier and former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica shared the early lead of the rally, but both dropped back due to technical problems.

Evans emerged as the leader after stage three on Friday, enjoying an advantage of 22 seconds over Latvala. However, the Volkswagen driver managed to reel the Briton in and take the lead after stage six before keeping his rivals at bay over the remainder of the rally.

Despite only finishing third on the final power stage, Latvala claimed his third win of the season ahead of Evans by 43 seconds.

“We’ve not had to push to the maximum at any point, but it was a faultless drive in difficult conditions,” Latvala said. “After winning last year, I have now done it again in Corsica and it’s important for me to show I can be competitive on all surfaces.”

Evans managed to hold on to second place by 3.2 seconds to record his career-best finish, while Andreas Mikkelsen rounded out the podium in third place.

Although neither Ogier nor Kubica could finish in the points, both salvaged something from the weekend by coming first and second respectively in the power stage.

The WRC returns in three weeks’ time for Rally de Catalunya in Spain, which is the penultimate round of the 2015 season.