NASCAR: What to expect for Edwards, Bayne, Hornish with 2015 changes

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The transition from 2013 into 2014 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series saw a bevy of drivers heading to new teams. The number is much smaller heading into 2015, but no less notable. Here’s an outlook on who’s going where in driver or team changes: 

Carl Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing

How it happened: The summer’s worst kept secret was that Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing were headed for a separation after more than a decade together. Much the same as some other veterans of late, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, runner-up Ryan Newman and 2013 runner-up Matt Kenseth among them, Edwards is at the point of his career where a change of scenery will likely serve him well.

What to look for in 2015: On the whole, Toyotas seemed to struggle for power this year a year after they had the power, but not the reliability. Edwards should get on well with JGR eventually, but I’d see this shaping up as more a Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas-type situation at least initially. The team’s expanding from three to four cars, and it takes time for all the new pieces to gel. Edwards will work with crew chief Darian Grubb, who has most recently worked with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. You could foresee at least a win or two, but more than that with a serious championship challenge would seem a surprise.

source: Getty Images
Bayne in the 6. Photo: Getty Images

Trevor Bayne to Roush Fenway Racing

How it happened: Bayne signed with RFR full-time on the Saturday before the Coca-Cola 600 in May, which also served as the unofficial confirmation of Edwards’ departure at year’s end. The iconic RFR No. 6 returns and will take on the No. 99 owner points from this year. Bayne has been part-time in Sprint Cup for the better part of five seasons and was always going to move up to full-time; it was just a matter of when.

What to look for in 2015: At present, Bayne’s the only full-time rookie-of-the-year candidate, so while ROY is a realistic and expected goal it’s not going to be the only thing he’s after. There’s a lot for Bayne to prove at the Sprint Cup level. He’s rarely run that well in the non-restrictor plate races, and the RFR performance across the board this year left much to be desired. Without the steady hand of crew chief Jimmy Fennig to guide him – Fennig heads into deserved semi-retirement – Bayne will have a new voice atop the pit box guiding him throughout his first full year. He also has the problem of expectations. Kyle Larson raised the bar for rookies in 2014 and although Larson didn’t make the Chase, he did lay down the gauntlet in terms of top-10s and near-wins. Realistically, you’d like to see Bayne end the season top-20 in points, bank a handful of top-fives and anywhere from about seven to 10 top-10s.

source: Getty Images
Hornish back full-time. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Hornish Jr. to Richard Petty Motorsports

How it happened: Marcos Ambrose’s return to Australia created the vacancy, and Hornish was the perfect fit for the Sammy Johns-led team at Richard Petty Motorsports. Hornish has starred in the Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series the last three years with wins in each season, and was desperately unlucky to miss out on the 2013 title. While Ambrose was a road course star who had occasional oval highlights, notably on short tracks, Hornish should be an overall upgrade in a well-deserved second full-time Cup chance.

What to look for in 2015: Richard Petty Motorsports almost usurped Roush Fenway Racing as second-best team in the Ford stable behind Team Penske this season, and the addition of Hornish alongside Aric Almirola for 2015 should further the team’s growth. He’s been able to spend time in the shop to learn and begin to mesh with the organization. He’s found his rhythm and comfort zone in stock cars after an extended learning process, but he’s also developed and honed the skills that he showcased in his IndyCar heydays. He should work well with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. Considering Almirola won a race and made the Chase this year, it wouldn’t surprise to see Hornish achieve the same feat, and became the latest first-time Cup winner. That’s a realistic expectation, with anything beyond that a bonus.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”