The debut of RFR's newest Sprint Cup car results in top 20 finishes for all three drivers.
Roush Fenway Racing unveiled its latest version of the Generation 6 Ford at Texas Motor Speedway.
Prior to the event, Jack Roush said he was “hopeful” the new car was a step in the right direction. However, the veteran team owner tempered his statement by adding it was “not a panacea” to solve all of RFR’s ills.
Both Roush and his Sprint Cup team manager Kevin Kidd are realistic. One car in one race wasn’t going to vault RFR back among NASCAR’s elite. However, considering Roush’s record at Texas Motor Speedway – where the company has won nine of the 29 races held at the 1.5-mile track – it was the perfect opportunity to gauge progress. For starters, all three drivers advanced to the second round of qualifying on Friday.
Here’s how they stacked up after the race:
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – It was a banner day for the driver of the No. 17 Zest Ford, who despite falling three laps off the pace finished 15th – the highest of the RFR stable. Not only did Stenhouse post his third top 15 result of the season, he finished ahead of his girlfriend Danica Patrick. But seriously, it was a career-high effort for Stenhouse at Texas. His previous best was fall of 2013 when he finished 16th.
And on Saturday, Stenhouse had to overcome multiple obstacles to accomplish the feat. On Lap 79, Stenhouse busted for speeding on pit road and assessed a pass-thru penalty and fell to 33rd. Although he wheeled the No. 17 Ford back through the field, Stenhouse’s headway was stalled again Lap 267 when his pit crew came over the wall too soon. Stenhouse soldiered on over the next 65 circuits, earned the lucky dog and returned to the lead lap.
“I definitely thought we had a better car than what we ran all night,” Stenhouse said. “Obviously, I sped on pit road there and cost us a lap, and then we were just fighting back from way behind. The cautions fell our way and we got some good breaks towards the end and made some better adjustments, and was able to salvage a 15th, so that was good.”
It was Stenhouse's best run on an intermediate track since the Charlotte fall race in 2013. His average finish on the first two 1.5-mile tracks this season was 32.5. Overall, the driver was encouraged by the additional speed in the car.
We’ve got to get the handling a little bit better. I think we missed it there, but there’s still more speed we need to bring in these race cars, but I think we’ve got a step in the right direction.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Stenhouse said. “I think it definitely showed that we still need to work on it, but I do think we had a little bit more speed. We’ve got to get the handling a little bit better. I think we missed it there, but there’s still more speed we need to bring in these race cars, but I think we’ve got a step in the right direction.”
Greg Biffle – Biffle has two career wins at Texas, but had to settle for 17th on Saturday. Biffle, who started 19th, was the highest qualifying driver in the Roush camp. The No. 16 Safety-Kleen Ford fell off the lead lap twice throughout the race. With a lucky dog and a wave around, he was able to climb up to 15th but lost positions over the final 20 laps.
Biffle’s best finish this season was 10th at Daytona – the only top 10 earned by a Roush Cup racer this year. On intermediate tracks, Biffle finished 25th at Atlanta after a late race accident and 14th at Las Vegas, where his average finish is 14.5.
Trevor Bayne – Bayne made his Cup debut in 2010 at Texas with the Wood Brothers. He finished 17th – the same position he would finish in his next two starts. On Saturday, Bayne finished 18th – tying his season-high finish from Martinsville and earning his third top 20 run in 2015. Despite falling off the lead lap, Bayne earned the lucky dog prior to the Lap 114 restart. When he pitted, during the fifth caution on Lap 251, Bayne was busted for driving through more than three pit boxes entering his pit stall. He restarted 23rd and over the last 80 laps progressed to 16th before finished 18th.
I felt like it was one of our better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had in a while.
Bayne, who is working under the direction of veteran crew chief Bob Osborne, described his “whole weekend as an improvement” despite not running in happy hour after a wiring harness needed repair.
“I think if we had that (practice) we had a top-15 opportunity this weekend,” Bayne said. “The whole race we managed to basically stay on the lead lap…I felt like it was one of our better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had in a while. We finished 18th, but we were a couple adjustments away from being a top-15 car.”
Bayne appeared optimistic after finishing 28th at Las Vegas and Phoenix and 29th at Fontana. For the organization, it was the first time this season that all three Roush Fenway Fords finished in the top 20.
“To have the 17, the 16 and myself all in the top 18 I think the scoreboard shows it was an improvement in itself,” Bayne added. “Our qualifying effort was better this weekend. Obviously, we’re not gonna jump to the top of that pole in one weekend, so it’s gonna be small things. Honestly, I didn’t expect to see this big of a gain out of it, so I think it’s good.
“Obviously, 18th isn’t where we want to be at this point in the season, but for where we’ve been it’s an improvement and we’ll keep getting better.”