Exclusive interview: Roush Fenway president defends decision to downsize

The decline in performance at Roush Fenway Racing is best expressed in one stark statistic.

Exclusive interview: Roush Fenway president defends decision to downsize
Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Steve Newmark
Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Chris Buescher, Front Row Motorsports Ford
Winner Chris Buescher, Front Row Motorsports Ford
Ryan Reed, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Darrell Wallace Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Chris Buescher, Front Row Motorsports Ford
Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford

In 2005, half the Chase field consisted of Roush Fenway drivers -- when there were only 10 drivers in the Chase. 

In 2016, there were no RFR entries in a 16-driver Chase field. 

How does that happen? RFR has been asking itself the same question while attempting to right the ship. Once the dominant organization in the Ford camp, Roush will drop to third in the pecking order upon the arrival of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017. 

We’ve got to deliver on the track. We believe that we’re poised to do that next year. We know we’re going to be judged on that.

RFR President Steve Newmark

Last week, Motorsport.com reported on the departure of Greg Biffle and reassignment of longtime GM Robbie Reiser. This week RFR officially became a two-car Sprint Cup team featuring  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne. 

A tough, but strategic move

RFR President Steve Newmark called the downsizing at RFR a strategic move — albeit an extremely tough decision. The company considered more than a dozen options before arriving at its current organizational chart. 

“The whole goal and the whole objective of doing whatever we did is to make sure we would improve our performance and make our race cars faster,” Newmark told Motorsport.com. “Obviously, there are different opinions on how you do that and ultimately what we decided is we need to be more of an engineering, laser-focused company. We’ve always been good at production and manufacturing. I think sometimes you fall back on what you’re comfortable with. 

“Because of that, it probably inhibited our ability to get a lot of the changes from the drawing board into the car. So this was a strategic decision to say, ‘Yes, we could run three cars,’ but instead maintain our engineering capacity. We really built it up, brought in some really talented people over the last few years and we’re going to concentrate onto two cars and make sure that everything that comes out of that is in the car at the track the next weekend.”

Loaning their brightest prospect to a rival team

Over the last two weeks, close to 30 Roush employees have been displaced — some in house, some such as veteran crew chief Bob Osborne who had been overseeing Chris Buescher’s campaign at Front Row Motorsports. Together, the pair made the Chase. Buescher, Roush’s most talented prospect in its driver stable, is now on loan to JTG Daugherty Racing (along with a RFR charter) for 2017.

“The beauty of it is, it’s only for a year,” Newmark said. “We don’t feel like we let him go. We have a lot of faith in Tad (Geschickter, team owner) and JTG. They’ve been running great and Tad is a fantastic owner. They’ve become a staple in the sport. 

“We view it as Chris is still part of the Roush Fenway family and we need to get our house together on the car side and the best way to do that is with two cars.”

Relationship with Front Row

Roush Fenway Racing will continue its technical alliance with Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports. Newmark says the multi-year deal with FRM is one of the best collaborations Roush has had over the years. Although it’s unlikely that one of the RFR prospects will replace Buescher in the No. 34 Ford.

“They have some great folks there and we’’ll continue to work with them next year,” Newmark said. “We have dialogue with Bob quite a bit, but I don’t think that (driver development) will be part of the relationship next year.” 

That’s not to say that Ryan Reed or Darrell “Bubba” Wallace couldn’t see seat time in a Cup car in 2017. However, Newmark says the company’s immediate focus remains on getting Bayne and Stenhouse up to speed.

Making progress

“We believe that we made significant progress at the beginning of last year,” Newmark said. “If you look at qualifying and during the races, they had made significant progress. Then we stagnated a little bit. We had some execution issues at the beginning of the year that didn’t allow us to get the finishes that we deserved based on the speed in the cars. But we still had two cars that were on the fringe of the Chase when you were looking at the beginning of the summer. 

“I think there’s a renewed energy and an excitement. I think that part of that is we had to pick the path that we were going to go down and follow that. That uncertainty in any organization causes concern. Now that we know this is the direction that we’re going, I think there’s a lot of excitement and energy about it. We’ve got to deliver on the track. We believe that we’re poised to do that next year. We know we’re going to be judged on that.” 

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