Roush turnaround, or one-hit wonder?
12 July 2010
The race that brought Roush Fenway Racing to its knees last year provided what may be a glimpse of salvation for the organization on Saturday night.
Clearly, race runner-up Carl Edwards and his No. 99 Ford team found something before and during the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. So did David Ragan's No. 6 outfit. Ragan improved throughout the race and finished 12th, his best result at a non-restrictor-plate track this season.
Matt Kenseth ran a steady-if-unspectacular 13th, and Greg Biffle showed early speed before dropping a valve, eventually blowing his engine and finishing 35th.
Contrast Saturday night's aggregate performance with that of a year ago. Edwards finished 14th that night. Problem was, he was the best Ford in the race. Jamie McMurray—then driving for Roush—was 22nd, Kenseth 23rd, Ragan 25th and Biffle 31st.
That was the race that amplified the questions that have dogged the Roush Fenway drivers ever since: “What's wrong with Roush?” “What's wrong with the Fords?”
On Saturday night, Edwards found the speed he had been lacking. In the closing laps, he caught and passed Jeff Gordon for the second position and had trimmed race winner David Reutimann's lead from more than two seconds to .727 seconds by the time the checkered flag fell.
For months, Edwards has politely answered the relentless, tiresome questions about Roush Fenway's performance. The LifeLock.com 400 provided a welcome respite. Edwards appeared in the media center AFTER the race as one of the top three finishers for the first time this year.
“The good thing is that we had the fastest car at the end of the race,” Edwards said. “If you have the fastest car at the end of the race every week, you'll win plenty of races. If we can just do this more often, we will have turned the page, and we've got a lot of good things to look forward to.
“Hopefully, we can go back and look at what we did (Saturday night) and apply it for the races to come.”
There are cautionary notes. Obviously, one race doesn't make a comeback. Edwards and Biffle are still in the top 12 (10th and 11th, respectively), but there is no margin of error if they hope to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Ford drivers are running the new FR9 engines. Kasey Kahne, who drives for Roush Fenway affiliate Richard Petty Motorsports, blew his engine at New Hampshire. Biffle's problem at Chicagoland was different—but equally terminal.
Clearly, there are bugs that have to be addressed, and that gives Edwards pause.
“I've been taking for granted that our engines run so well and don't have any trouble,” he said. “We can't have that trouble if we want to make the Chase.”
Despite the engine issues, however, Saturday's race was the most positive sign of progress the Roush drivers have seen this season.
“We're definitely on the event horizon,” Edwards said. “We haven't quite crossed over.
“I know we can run that well. We just have to figure out how to do that every week. I hope this is something that we can go back, talk about on Monday, figure out why our car was so much different this week than it has been, and maybe apply it.
“We have some mile-and-a-halfs and tracks like this coming up the rest of the season that are going to be really important tracks.”
With seven races left before the Chase field is set, we'll soon know whether the performance at Chicagoland was a one-night reprieve or the start of something big.