TALLADEGA, Al— Once a top-team on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Roush-Fenway went to the wayside after 2014. Once fielding five cars, they are now fielding two at the Cup level. Losing names like Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth was a shot for the organization. However, Roush Fenway stayed strong despite the performance on the track.
Although team officials won’t call it a resurgence, Roush Fenway has been competitive since going to a two-car organization this season following the departure of Greg Biffle at the end of 2016.
Winning the GEICO 500 was a mark of success in the “turning the ship”.
“Its ebbs and flows, its ups and downs. I've been stock car racing for 30 years in 2016, so this is my 31st year. But I had already been racing on a national level, drag racing and road racing for 20 years before I started with the stock car, with NASCAR,” said Jack Roush about the past few seasons.
Being part of Ford Performance, the emphasis is on the camp being one. That one mentality is the strongest it has ever been and at the top of their game, according to Roush.
“They give us a lot of tools in our toolbox and they give us unfettered support from their technical people that the things that they've got labs and all to do that are applied to what we're doing, and to be able to carry the banner for Ford is really special,” Roush explained.
Being “new” to the organization, Brian Pattie, crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., believes that the priority has changed from within the organization.
“Just focus, focus one week at a time, execute, and after the checkered flag falls on a Sunday, we'll regroup on Monday and start over. Just try and not get ahead of ourselves. That's just the biggest part. Obviously we've got better people and better spots and the cars are faster. That helps tremendously,” stated Pattie.
Finding new success in NASCAR, Roush was confident that Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne would win races in 2017. Over the off-season, Roush restructured internally to put the right people in the right places to gel in an effort to bring the organization back to winning form.
The start of 2017 has been a new wind in the sails of the organization. Officials and workers still believed in the program, despite not having the numbers. The organization continued to believe in their personnel and drivers that they would work their way out of the slump.
According to Steve Newmark, team president, this win was a confirmation that all their hard work has paid off.
“I think this is just kind of affirmation of the work that's been put into it, and we really do follow kind of the -- Jack's leadership and the principles at that he's instilled in everybody, and it's been a promote from within organization, so you have a lot of people at Roush Fenway that started on the ground floor and have worked their way up and have had ups and downs, and Ricky is probably kind of the poster child of that, so I think that's why it makes it so enjoyable for everybody to be involved,” stated Newmark.
With his victory at Talladega, Stenhouse, Jr. locks himself into the NASCAR playoffs. Roush-Fenway believes that Bayne will make the playoffs with a win. Bayne currently sits 16th in points, just one point ahead of 17th place driver, Aric Almirola.
It was a tale of two days for Roush Fenway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 from Bristol Motor Speedway was not the best race in 2017 for Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace Jr.
In qualifying early Saturday Morning, Reed qualified 24th and Wallace Jr. qualified 14th. However, both drivers had to start in the rear of the field. In pre-race technical inspection, NASCAR found an unapproved splitter mount on both the cars.
For Reed, the first stage of the race was his last. After dropping to the rear of the field to serve his penalty, he began to make strides towards the front. Due to a tight handling race car in the early stages, Reed was put a lapped down by the leaders. Reed never had the chance to make a pit stop to fix the issue.
Reed’s day ended on lap 79 of the 300 lap event. The right front tire blew sending Reed into the wall. Reed also suffered a sprain to his wrist as he did not let go of the steering wheel in time before contact was made. Reed and his team deemed the car as unrepairable to finish 38th
“It was a tough day altogether, starting in the back,” said Reed. “The balance wasn’t very good and we went a lap down early. We were trying to fight through it, but had a tire go down and that ended our day. We’ll move on. We’ll go to Richmond, which is one of my favorite tracks, and rebound. The good thing about getting a win at Daytona is that buys you some insurance in case you have some days like this, so we’ll rebound. I’m really proud of everyone on the Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang. It’s a tough group mentally and physically, so we’ll persevere.”
After getting out of the car, Reed though his wrist was fractured. However, He went to social media to confirm it was just a sprain.
Ohh and wrist is all good. Just a little tight. ??— Ryan Reed (@driverRyanReed) April 22, 2017
For Wallace Jr., his day ended with 40 laps remaining ending his streak of five consecutive sixth place finishes.
In the first stage, Wallace Jr. worked his way towards the top-15 after starting from the rear. He improved over 20 positions in the stage, but went a lap down to the leaders due to a long green flag run. Wallace finished 15th in the first stage.
The second stage saw Wallace Jr. fighting to get his lap back that he lost in the first stage. Wallace Jr. battled Matt Tifft for that free pass position through much of the second and third stage. However, an accident on lap 259 that damaged the left rear of the car regulated Wallace Jr. to a 33rd place finish, tying his worst finish of the season at Daytona.
“It’s just an unfortunate day,” said Wallace. “I was just fighting hard for the lucky dog. We were put in the back for some circumstances we’ve got to get straightened out, but we were trying to make the most of it. We were fast. We were so fast there with our Leidos Mustang. It’s just unfortunate. We were clawing ourselves out of that lap-down spot and just ran out of time and ran out of luck.
The Food City 500 provided Roush Fenway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., with the best luck of the weekend for the organization. Both drivers ran up front most of the day and ended up with top-11 finishes.
Bayne started in the 12th position due to qualifying being cancelled on Friday. Bayne maintained a top-20 position throughout much of the first stage. As the track rubbered up, Bayne began to experience a tight handling race car towards the end of the stage. Bayne finished the stage in the 15th position.
The second stage Bayne continued to work on his handling working his way up into the top-10. Bayne held off Stenhouse Jr. towards the conclusion to score two points by finishing in the ninth position.
The third stage saw Bayne going from tight conditions in the middle of the corners and loose on corner entry. Bayne was on and off in the top-10. Using the top lane, Bayne gained track position to finish in the 11th position to score his sixth top-15 finish of 2017.
Just like Bayne, Stenhouse Jr. ran up front throughout much of the race and scored a ninth place finish.
Stenhouse was almost going to a backup car after contact with the wall in the only practice session on Friday, but the team repaired the car to full glory for the race.
Stenhouse held onto a position in the top-20 throughout much of the first stage. while battling a loose car. Once the loose condition was treated, Stenhouse marched his way to the front of the field. Stenhouse worked his way towards the top-10 at the conclusion of the second stage.
Stenhouse used the high lane to work his way up to seventh, but ultimately ended up in the ninth position in the Food City 500.
The 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series season for Roush Fenway Racing was not one of great acclaim for the team. The team fielded two full-time drivers in Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed, while having part-time entries for Trevor Bayne, Gray Gaulding, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Bayne completed at Watkins Glen for Roush-Fenway. He started seventh and finished in the fifth position.
Gaulding completed in the second events at Bristol and Richmond. At Bristol he started 21st and finished 13th. At Richmond, he started 11th and finished 13th.
Stenhouse Jr. competed at Phoenix in the fall. He started 13th and finished third.
For Wallace Jr, the season started off with a sixth place finish at Daytona, but at Atlanta he finished 18th. His first DNF came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he was involved in a crash. However, he was able to have three consecutive top-20 finshes. At Bristol, he received a 25th place finish. Over the next three weeks, he had top-20 finishes with his best finish of second coming at Dover. Wallace did not find his mojo at Charlotte, which resulted in a 27th place finish. As the season entered the summer months, Wallace had seven consecutive top-20 finishes with his best coming at Kentucky. At Iowa and Watkins Glen, Wallace finished 27th and 29th, respectively. Going into the inaugural playoffs in the Xfinity Series, Wallace had six consecutive top-20 finishes with the best coming at Bristol.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Wallace opened at Kentucky with an eighth place finish. At Dover, he finished 11th. At Charlotte, he finished 20th. Those finishes allowed him to advance into the next round.
The next round was not as nice for Wallace. He suffered two DNF’s at Charlotte and Phoenix. At Texas, he finished in the 11th position. The two DNF’s served as his Achilles Heel to advance into the final four at Homestead. Wallace finished the season at Homestead with an 11th place finish.
2016 was Reed’s third full-time season in Xfinity competition. He started out Daytona with a 16th place finish. He went into the next five races with consecutive top-20 finished with the best coming at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a 13th place finish. At Bristol, he finished 21st, but was able to rebound for an 11th place finish at Richmond. At Talladega, Reed finished 31st, but backed it up at Dover and Charlotte with an 18th and 19th place finish. His first DNF of the season came at Pocono, where he was involved in a crash that resulted in a 33rd place finis. However, Reed went on a streak of three consecutive top-15 finishes with his best being a sixth place finish at Daytona. Kentucky was not one his stronger tracks, but he went on a tear of five consecutive top-15 finishes with the best coming atWatkins Glen where he finished ninth. At Bristol, he finished 35th, but leading into the playoffs, Reed had four top-15 finishes. In the final race of the regular season, he finished 32nd due to a crash, but was able to make the inaugural playoffs.
When the playoffs began, Reed knocked a seventh place finish at Kentucky, a 10th place finish at Dover, and a 15th place finish at Dover to advance to the second round.
The next round saw consistency from Reed, but that was not enough to advance to the final four at Homestead. Reed finished 16th at Kansas, 12th at Texas, and sixth at Phoenix. At Homestead, he closed out the season with a 16th place finish.
2017 is not looking bright for Roush-Fenway’s Xfinity Series program. Wallace Jr. only has sponsorship for the first six races of 2016. Wallace knows that his job in the first six races is to win and run up front to help with the sponsorship deal. Reed will continue to have the sponsorship of Lilly’s Diabetes in 2017. Just like in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 2017 is a crucial year for Roush-Fenway’s future.
Throughout Josh Wise’s eight year Sprint Cup career, he has raced for several lower budget teams, including The Motorsports Group in 2016.
In 146 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, Wise has a best career finish of 10th coming last season at Talladega. Since then he’s raced for four different race teams in 33 races.
Owned by Curtis Key, The Motorsports Group is in its second year of existence at the Cup Series level. In 2012, Wise and the team ran 22 events in the XFINITY Series, finishing 33rd in the championship standings.
According to Wise, 2016 has been about building for the future. Every little amount of speed that the team can find will benefit them down the road.
“Expectations for us are just based on our execution of the weekend,” Wise told Speedway Digest. Obviously, you look at where you’re starting, where you want to be and you create some sort of plan to get there. It’s all about the execution of that plan. If you don’t end up where you want to be then that’s something you reevaluate. For us, those steps are simple. It’s about practice and making changes the right way and communicating well, spending time with Dave [Fuge, crew chief] going over what I feel like the car needs.”
Including Wise, The Motorsports Group has seven full-time employees, the lowest amount at the Cup Series level. He also believes that his team is a long ways away from being in a position to run in the top 20 on a weekly basis, admitting that compared to other small teams in the garage, TMG is “microscopic.”
The team has competed in 18 of the 22 races this season, missing all three restrictor plate events and the Brickyard 400 last month. Finishes like a season-high 24th-place at Kentucky are a step in the right direction for the organization.
“Those are weekends that the morale is naturally higher,” Wise said. “As much as I try to keep the guys on focusing on our jobs, trying to improve and find gaps that are within us, you still get caught up in the board and what it says with what position you are and where you finished. It looks a little more optimistic than it really is at times.”
Whenever the team finishes in the 20s, it’s a small victory for the organization. Wise has been among the top 30 in three races this season Kentucky, Watkins Glen and Pocono.
“It’s a bit of a cliché statement, but it’s a David and Goliath scenario,” Wise said of his team. “Those finishes are wins for us for sure. Even weekends where we finish 32nd, if we do a good job and execute well and out race some cars with a fast racecar its worth it. At the last Pocono race we finished 34th, but I went home and I was really exciting because every time we hit the track we made some sort of gain on our cars and learned a tremendous amount in going toward the right direction.”
At the bigger tracks such as Pocono, there are some laps that TMG is faster in the race than they are in qualifying, something that Wise also believes the team can build on.
Missing a race for TMG isn’t the worst thing in the world. Wise is a racer and he will compete in anything, giving 100 percent on the race track, but the psyche of the team can rise with a solid car that doesn’t make the feature event.
“I’m getting excited about the direction that we are going and I feel like at Indy, we learned a lot there,” Wise said. “We missed the race, but we had an extremely good car just to have a fuel pump go out in qualifying. It’s just a total misfortune, not meant to be type thing. I was disappointed that we missed the race, but it was sort of out of our control, we had a lift pump go out, but I was excited that the car drove so well.”
Like many of the big teams in present day NASCAR, TMG has started off small, hoping it pays off down the road. Though comparing TMG to BK Racing is like BK Racing being compared to Hendrick Motorsports, Wise believes that in order to take the next step the team needs to find sponsorship.
TMG has had zero sponsorship at all in eight of the 18 races they’ve competed in this season. With the start-and-park era all but gone from NASCAR, Wise has an average finish of 34.6 this season, which is better than his 2013 season competing primarily for Front Row Motorsports.
“I think you always want more,” Wise said of his situation. “Contentment is a choice. You can choose to be content, but you can choose to continue to apply yourselves to do more. I think there is room for both ends of it and that’s where I’m at. Yeah, I want to run for a bigger and better team with a better opportunity or try and win an XFINITY race, but I’m not doing that, I’m here. I’m not caught up in the fact that I’m not there. I’m doing the best that I can.”
One thing that Wise has always had is the support from the fans. In 2014, competing for Phil Parsons Racing, Reddit, an online community fully backed the California native in his pursuit of making the All-Star Race. He won the fan vote, making it into his first career All-Star event.
At the time 2014 looked to be a turning point in Wise’s career. Missing just the second race of the season at Phoenix, the 33-year-old had 14 finishes in the top 30, the most he’s ever accumulated. Much of his success came from the fans.
“It means a lot,” Wise said of the fan support. “It’s a strange thing for me because I’m not naturally a public person. I have to try and work at that end of it. I shy away from fans because I don’t like being admired. I’m just like a normal guy who happens to drive racecars. I don’t think that I’m anything special. I was given a great gift by God to do what I do and have the ability to do well at the opportunity.”
Not knowing his future is a hard thing on Wise. Racing for TMG is one of those handshake deals that could end at any moment. The plan for now is to make it through the 2016 season and go from there.
“It’s almost as good as any piece of paper that I’ve ever had a contract with,” Wise said.
I guess anybody will tell you that a contract is not worth the paper that they are written on. We have that commitment though this season and work hard every week at it.”
The main priority for the tri-athlete is to one day compete in an elite car, winning races on a consistent basis. But for now it’s about surviving, hoping that he sees that day.
Off the race track, Wise swims, runs and bikes training his body to perform in the racecar. Becoming good friends with six-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson as well as Trevor Bayne and Landon Cassill has sparked a fire under him.
Working out in a mental train of thought, otherwise known as a triathlon is something that translates over to the track for Wise..
“That’s something that I pushed into more recently where you build fitness eventually and then you are able to do more fitness above what the racecar demands,” Wise said of his training. “There are barriers that you can break down in your mind with intense fitness sessions and intense races that kind of directly lead to the racecar with the intensity and sometimes the frustration and mental fatigue of all of it.”
At every town on the circuit, Wise has a place he likes to do his training. Whether it’s a bike route that leads to a coffee shop downtown or a swim that leads lunch on the lake, he fully believes that pushing your body to the limit helps a driver perform.
“What happened was, I started wearing heart rate monitor and my heart rate monitor looks similar to if I were to run a marathon,” Wise elaborated on. “My heart rate goes into an aerobic rate where it’s a steady rate on your body and it’s physical. It’s the heat, it’s the movement and it’s the G-force that elevates your heart rate. I believe that anyone that is driving a racecar for more than an hour needs to be doing some sort of endurance exercise.”
Last year both Wise and Cassill competed in the Iron Man 70.3 World Championship in Zell Am See-Kaprun, Austria.
Wise finished 1,016th overall, completing the circuit in 5 hours, 13 minutes and 4 seconds. Cassill topped him by just seven minutes, finishing 867th.
But in the end it all goes back to racing.
“I feel that I’m an underrated racecar driver,” Wise said. “I’m way better than anybody realizes. Maybe that’s somewhere where I don’t undervalue myself. I think that on any given day I can get in somebody’s racecar or anybody can get in my racecar and I can perform with or better than any racecar driver out there. It’s something I’m very confident in.”
While it’s hard to showcase his talent at TMG, Wise likes to overachieve, proving that he is one of the best drivers in the world. He’s not going to allow driving for a small team hurt his chances to make it in NASCAR.
“Our sport is a team sport, almost more than any other sport,” he said of his situation. “There are so many hands that touch every part on that car and every part is so important. It’s kind of being between a rock and a hard place sometimes with where I am. I feel like I can do a lot more, but you are limited a little bit and you are doing the best you can.”