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.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Simon Pagenaud’s first season at Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 5th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 59 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 11th Place, Best Finish 3rd, 1 Pole, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 132 Laps Led, 5.2 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish

The 2015 season was always going to be a weird one for Simon Pagenaud, in his first season with Team Penske, adapting and adjusting to being with what’s widely regarded as one of the best if not the best teams in the sport. From a career standpoint he needed to move on from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where he overachieved for three seasons. And given what became of the Honda aero kit this year, having a Chevrolet at his disposal was always going to be a benefit.

In actuality, Pagenaud didn’t have a bad year, but it was one where the burden of expectation probably hurt his overall stats more than the reality of the situation.

Let’s face facts – he’d finished in the top five in points each of his first three seasons back in IndyCar the last two years, won four races and been in championship contention before. Take all that, apply it to Team Penske and you’d assume wins and title contention would follow, but it didn’t. Still, it was a new team, a fourth team, and that took time to gel.

His qualifying was dynamic, which went against his career form and was markedly improved. His average leapt from 8.6 to 5.2 this year, which was third best in the field. The problem? It trailed two of his three teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and was only one spot clear of Juan Pablo Montoya.

And then – and there is no easy way to put this – there were his finishes. In 12 of 16 races this season, Pagenaud finished worse than he started. For a driver renowned for making the most of his circumstances on race day, often times things went south when all the marbles, all the points were on the line. Some you could put down to strategy or particularly in the later part of the year, sampling different setups to aid his title-contending teammates.

There were highlights, in particular his speed at the three 500-mile races. Pagenaud was probably the quickest of the four Penske entries at Indianapolis, scored the pole in Fontana and also starred in Pocono, but he didn’t have results to back it up in any of the three. Contact at Indy halted what was certainly winning potential. He also scored a pair of thirds at Detroit race one and Mid-Ohio, although those were cases where he was lucky rather than good.

It was hard to view Pagenaud’s season positively on the whole because you know his potential and ability hasn’t gone missing. But finishing 11th in points when your three teammates end second, third and fifth is definitely a tough pill to swallow, and an early motivator to make the fast Frenchman a top comeback driver in 2016.

Nicky Hayden announces World Superbikes move

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Nicky Hayden of USA and Aspar Team MotoGP rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Spain - Free Practice at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 25, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden will leave the series at the end of the season ahead of a move into the World Superbike Championship in 2016, it has been announced.

Hayden has raced in MotoGP since 2003 and is currently the only American rider racing in the series, but has struggled to match the form of his early years, scoring just 13 points in 2015.

It had been rumored that Hayden would be walking away from MotoGP at the end of the season for some time, but this has now been confirmed in a statement from WorldSBK.

Hayden will join Honda’s factory team in the rival series, racing alongside Michael van der Mark. The 34-year-old will bid to become the first rider to win both MotoGP and WorldSBK titles.

“Well, my next stop is Superbike with Honda! I’m very excited, obviously, to stick with Honda; it’s where I’ve had the most success in my career,” Hayden said.

“World Superbikes is a championship that I followed closely as a kid when a lot of American riders were fighting at the front. It just seems like the right time and the right team to go with.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn and it’s going to be a big challenge, but also I’m very motivated to start and learn what I can.

“I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me through my MotoGP career. We had a good run but now it’s time to move on and try something different.”

Hayden’s departure acts as another blow to MotoGP’s profile in the United States, which has seen a downturn in recent years.

The exit of Ben Spies from Yamaha in 2013 was followed by the loss of the race at Laguna Seca the same year, while last month, it was confirmed that Indianapolis would not be returning to the calendar in 2016, leaving just one US round on the schedule.