After winning the opening race of the 2015 season at Daytona, Ryan Reed failed to record another top-10 finish the remainder of the season. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
As teammate Chris Buescher made it look easy running up front on a consistent basis en route to the XFINITY Series championship, Reed struggled with the cars provided by Roush Fenway Racing. Much like the Cup Series, RFR also struggled on the XFINITY Series side of competition, though, winning three races on the campaign.
In his first two full seasons, Reed has not performed up to expectations. Recording just two top five and top-10 finishes in those 66 races (excluding six races run in 2013), there is reason for concern heading into the new year. However, throughout the first two race weekends of 2016, the team has improved at least on the practice side of things.
In the first two races he has a 15th and 16th-place finish, respectively. In Atlanta, he was among the top 10 in two of the three practice sessions, showing that the interior changes and upper management at RFR has given the team speed to look forward to the remainder of the season.
“Roush Fenway was definitely dedicated to getting better,” Reed told Speedway Digest. “They’ve really restructured the entire organization and the entire mentality of how to approach these races weekends. There are so many changes with parts and pieces on the racecars and personnel.”
This season RFR is only fielding two full-time racecars in the XFINITY Series. Joining Reed for the second straight season is Darrell Wallace Jr.
Last year, these two drivers were able to bond and form a friendship away from the racetrack that they hoped to translate on track. Wallace was steady on track last season, accumulating three top fives and 14 top-10 finishes, resulting to a seventh-place finish in the season end standings.
“We are good teammates and share a lot of information,” Reed said. “There’s definitely no hostility between the two of us. We just have pretty good chemistry thus far.
“I think giving the best feedback that we can on the racetrack and be as evolved as possible away from the racetrack. Obviously give 110 percent while we are driving the racecar and get everything we can get out of them.”
The Nos. 6 and 16 teams have had to build a closer relationship heading into this season knowing that it would be just two teams this year for RFR. For the organization, it has never been about underperforming. Jack Roush lays all of his eggs in a basket in the XFINITY Series because that’s where his organization has historically been the most successful and finding drivers for the future.
Since Buescher won the championship last year, it allowed RFR to realize that they have the equipment to be successful. Even if the duo of teammates that fulfill the team underperformed, confidence is a virtue for this season.
“I think that it definitely adds a little bit of thinking that ‘my teammate did this so can I,’ but I think that we are focused on going out there and be the best that we can and compete for top 10s week in and week out,” Reed said.
One thing that Roush doesn’t need to worry about on the No. 16 team is sponsorship. While battling diabetes, Reed has formed a close alliance with Lilly Diabetes. Lilly sponsors the car throughout the full length of the schedule. But because of that, the driver still feels that his job is on the line each and every week.
“I think that every driver or every athlete whether you are playing baseball, soccer, football or racing, you feel like competing for your job is performance based,” he said. “If things aren’t going perfect then you are going to be a little concerned with your job.”
Obviously, winning is what the 22-year-old wants to accomplish. With a win, Reed will have a shot at the championship knowing that he would clinch a spot in the newly formed Chase in the XFINITY Series.
As proven in the Cup Series, if you are in it, you can win it when it comes to the championship battle. He knows that he needs to prove that he can run up front with championship favorites Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.
If he can do so leading up to the Chase, then maybe a championship is in his future. But if he underperforms again this season, he will be on the hot seat heading into the 2017 season, knowing that Roush has been there as a father figure throughout his tenure at RFR.
“Jack, I wouldn’t say that he is a man of few words, but when it comes time for Jack to speak up and say his part you definitely listen,” Reed spoke of his car owner. “Those are powerful words that carry a lot of weight with you. When he comes to you, you listen and I’ve definitely absorbed a lot of what he has said.”
With the recent announcement of Roush Fenway Racing and ARCA Racing team Lira Motorsports, if Reed doesn't live up to expectations this season there is a chance his spot could be filled by one of the ARCA drivers, potentially, Kyle Weatherman. He raced in 15 ARCA races in 2015, recording a victory and 13 top-10 finishes.
Reed knows that Roush has stuck with him, much like he stuck with drivers like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. when he struggled in the XFINITY Series. Though his upswing may not have come as fast as Stenhouse, there is reason for optimism on the No. 16 team in 2016.