Elliott Sadler

Roush Fenway Racing looks for big rebound in 2015

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It goes without saying at Roush Fenway Racing: If Jack’s not happy, no one’s happy.

Jack, of course, is team co-owner Jack Roush. And while RFR had some decent showings in 2014, qualifying Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it wasn’t a great overall season for RFR. The team’s three Fords had two wins, both by Edwards.

Roush made a number of changes during the offseason, particularly with crew chiefs. Bob Osborne moved to Trevor Bayne’s team, and Nick Sandler replaced Mike Kelley as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief.

Kelley remains with Stenhouse as car chief, while Sandler – formerly team engineer for Edwards (who left for Joe Gibbs Racing) – will get his first opportunity as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

Greg Biffle, who is the dean of Roush Fenway Racing having joined the team in 1998, kept crew chief Matt Puccia.

Roush is confident his team will rebound in 2015.

“The glass is definitely more than half full,” Roush said. “The hole in our performance was in the mile-and-a-half and two-mile racetracks, which had typically been our strengths. I characterize our changes as tweaks, rather than revolutionary changes.

Biffle, 45, is the elder statesman of Roush Fenway Racing. He struggled through last season, failing to win while managing three top fives and 11 top-10 finishes.

“Last year was certainly a very tough season for us,” Biffle said. “This offseason, with no testing going on, we’ve really agonized over it, but I really feel like it’s been a turning point for Roush Fenway. It gave us the opportunity to step back and look at potentially where we made the wrong turn in the road.

“When you’re racing every week and trying to do this and testing and doing all these things, you’re looking at the problem down low. It wasn’t until we got up higher and really looked at the landscape and decided we made some wrong decisions back possibly over a year ago on the direction with our cars, we really feel like we’ve found some things we’ve done wrong and have righted those things.”

Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing, will move into Cup full time in the No. 6 Ford and essentially take Edwards’ slot.

“I think Roush Fenway Racing is turning a corner and hopefully we turn it pretty fast here and we can go and contend for some wins this year,” Bayne said.

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NASCAR: Roush Fenway announces crew chief lineup

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Some of the outstanding pieces in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series garages were put into their respective puzzle places today with Roush Fenway Racing announcing its crew chief lineup.

Matt Puccia stays put on Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford. Meanwhile Bob Osborne, Carl Edwards’ longtime crew chief, will come back to the Cup level after a several-year hiatus since 2012. He’ll join Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 Ford.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gets a new crew chief for his No. 17 Ford in Nick Sandler, who had been head engineer the last four years under Jimmy Fennig on the RFR No. 99. Mike Kelley continues as that car’s car chief.

Fennig stays on with the team as research and development coordinator, after announcing his semi-retirement from the crew chief role at the end of 2014.

“Bob Osborne is a proven commodity, as evidenced by his 18 wins as a Sprint Cup crew chief,” team owner Jack Roush said in a release. “He will bring a strong veteran presence to the No. 6 AdvoCare team, as Trevor Bayne makes the transition to full-time Sprint Cup racing.

“We have seen proven results with Matt Puccia and Greg Biffle and we will look to continue to build on that moving into 2015,” added Roush. “And we are excited about the elevation of Nick Sandler to crew chief on the No. 17. Nick has a strong engineering background with the company and his time working hand-in-hand with Jimmy Fennig over the past few seasons will prove invaluable as he takes the helm of the No. 17.

Kevin Kidd, who had been the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief in the NASCAR Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series, is the Sprint Cup team manager for that trio. Mark McArdle serves as the team’s engineering director for both the Cup and XFINITY programs.

In the XFINITY ranks, crew chiefs will be Phil Gould (No. 1, Elliott Sadler), Seth Barbour (No. 16, Ryan Reed), Scott Graves (No. 60, Chris Buescher) and Chad Norris (No. 6, Bubba Wallace). Norris took over as Edwards’ crew chief in 2012 when Osborne left his post midseason for health reasons.

NASCAR: Bubba Wallace confirmed for Roush Fenway XFINITY program

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Roush Fenway Racing has signed Darrell “Bubba” Wallace for 2015.

The talented up-and-coming NASCAR driver moves into the XFINITY Series after spending the last couple years in the Camping World Truck Series, and after he was released from his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.

This past season, he finished third in the points with four wins, but faced an uncertain future with JGR having a lack of sponsorship to confirm him as a part of their program for 2015.

He’ll now join a four-car lineup with Chris Buescher, Ryan Reed and new recruit Elliott Sadler. No mention was made of this being a full season, although that will be the goal.

Wallace will be in Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 car, with sponsorship and further crew personnel to be announced at a later date.

“I’ve had a remarkable journey over the last few years thanks to people who have put me in a position to win the races that I have,” Wallace said, via NASCAR.com. “When I first joined the sport, many said I would never compete with the real drivers. Now, as I join the winningest (XFINITY) team in NASCAR history, I take that as a responsibility to add more wins to the team’s legacy and help tear down the barriers for the next generation of NASCAR drivers.”

It’s a good move for both Wallace and RFR going forward, looking longer-term.

Many consider Wallace one of NASCAR’s top prospects, and with Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both unproven over a full-time Cup season, and Greg Biffle failing to post a significant championship challenge in recent years, RFR needs a potential star in its base.

It remains to be seen whether Wallace will make any Cup starts this upcoming season. But his ETA at the Cup level is probably sooner now with RFR than with JGR, given JGR’s current Cup lineup of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and new recruit Carl Edwards.

Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 17 — Bubba Wallace wins 4 races, finishes 3rd in Trucks, but has no ride for 2015

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December. We kicked things off Thursday with No. 20, the announcement that the Nationwide Series will be renamed and rebranded the Xfinity Series starting in 2015. Friday, we looked at No. 19, the 2015 Induction Class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Saturday, we brought you No. 18, the upset regular season wins from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger.

Today, we focus on No. 17, Bubba Wallace’s breakout season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. had a breakout season in 2014, winning four races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Not only that, he also had nine top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes, two poles and ultimately finished a very strong third in the final standings, just 34 points behind champ Matt Crafton.

After such a season, you’d think Wallace would be a cinch to either come back for a third season in the Trucks, or possibly be promoted to the Xfinity Series by either Joe Gibbs Racing or the affiliated Kyle Busch Racing.

If so, you’d have thought wrong.

Bubba won’t be back with either JGR or KBR. The latter could not find enough sponsorship to keep the 21-year-old driver in the Trucks. Likewise, JGR couldn’t find enough sponsorship to promote Wallace to the Xfinity Series in 2015.

How that happens is hard to understand.

Wallace is one of the most charismatic rising stars in the NASCAR world. He has immense talent, is already a big fan and media favorite, and would appear to have a very successful future ahead of him.

But as of this writing, Bubba is without a job.

With no ride likely for 2015, he recently requested and received his release from his contract with JGR, after KBR told him he was not in the team’s plans for 2015.

Where he winds up — if he winds up anywhere — is anyone’s guess.

Rumors have floated recently that Wallace may be heading to an Xfinity Series ride in 2015 with Roush Fenway Racing – to become teammates with Chris Buescher, Ryan Reed and veteran Elliott Sadler – although neither Wallace nor RFR have said much about a potential deal in the works.

Still, you would think sponsors would be flocking to back Wallace. He’s the first African-American driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott to capture a NASCAR race in nearly 50 years (Fall 2013 at Martinsville), and then he won four races in 2014.

He’s a good looking kid, graduated from NASCAR’s vaunted Drive For Diversity driver development program for minorities and females, has developed great media skills already, and has a compelling back story on his rise through the racing ranks to get where he got to today.

Still, sponsorship is lacking for a guy who should be a slam dunk when it comes to attracting sponsors with fat wallets and money to burn.

I remember ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty telling me at lunch about seven years ago that no matter how good an upcoming African-American driver may be, he’s always going to have a tougher time getting sponsorship solely because of the color of his skin.

You would think, seven years later, that would not be the case. Yet other drivers, many with less talent, have rides for 2015 and Wallace does not.

And if the RFR rumors prove false, will Bubba be forced to sit along the sidelines for next season, maybe having only a few one-off, fill-in rides at best?

When Wallace won the 2014 season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was a bittersweet victory. He did it once again for KBM, but it would also be the last time he’d do so – at least for the foreseeable future (providing KBM would bring him back some time down the road).

“I’m not sure what the future brings for me, but this is one hell of a way to go out,” Wallace said after his Homestead win. “I came home with five wins (four this season) and a hell of a season.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace wins season finale at Homestead.

We can only hope Wallace truly does wind up at RFR in at least a part-time – if not a full-time – Xfinity Series ride in 2015.

Or, if he returns to the Truck Series with another team, that would be fine too. Maybe some major sponsor will come to its senses and take a chance on backing Wallace.

Because if such a sponsor does, I’m willing to bet Wallace will give him a great return on his investment and pay dividends that could potentially include a championship.

The kid is that good. And just like it was when he was breaking into NASCAR, he’s back to square one: he just needs a good break.

Let’s hope break No. 2 is right around the corner because Wallace, NASCAR and fans deserve it.

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NASCAR AMERICA: After release from JGR, what’s next for Bubba Wallace? (VIDEO)

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After a four-win season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. was expected to take the next step into the NASCAR XFINITY Series for 2015.

But when Joe Gibbs Racing was unable to find a sponsor to help him take that step, Wallace asked for and was granted his release.

Now, one of NASCAR’s better prospects could be heading to Roush Fenway Racing’s XFINITY Series operation, which is already set to run three cars in 2015 for Chris Buescher, Ryan Reed, and the incoming Elliott Sadler.

It can be strongly argued that Wallace, who in 2013 became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR premier series race in half a century, has done all he can in the Trucks.

And as NASCAR AMERICA’s Parker Kligerman noted in today’s episode, Roush Fenway’s ability to field XFINITY cars for young drivers without major sponsorship could help Wallace keep pushing toward the eventual goal of racing in the top-tier Sprint Cup Series.

For more of Kligerman’s thoughts, check out the clip above.