Friday, 1 August 2014

Changing of the guard at Roush Fenway Racing

The NASCAR world was left a little surprised in 2012 when Roush stalwart Matt Kenseth announced he would be leaving Ford's flagship team to move on to pastures new.

A man who had started all but six of his Sprint Cup races behind the wheel of Roush's famous number 17 Ford, Kensenth gave the organisation their first ever championship crown in 2003, albeit in controversial circumstances.

Kenseth took a single victory and wrapped up the championship with one round still to go leading to the Chase format, and the championship we see today, being born.

He would later go on to add a pair of Daytona 500 wins to his CV in 2008 and 2012. However, for the last two seasons Roush Fenway Racing has been without one of their biggest icons.

Fast forward to 2014 and we're seeing a similar story develop, but this time Carl Edwards is centre stage.

Whilst he may not have the Sprint Cup or the Daytona wins that Kenseth boasts, Edwards still has a Nationwide crown, an All-Star win and 23 victories in NASCAR's top tier - and now he too is set to leave Roush after they announced he will not be returning to them for the 2015 season.

Although his exact destination is unconfirmed, he is widely expected to move over to Joe Gibbs Racing - coincidetally Matt Kenseth's current team.

The likes of Penske and Richard Petty Motorsports were also touted as possible destinations for Edwards but a comment from Ford Racing's director, Jamie Allison seemed to suggest that a move to either of those teams is not on the cards.

"Carl Edwards has been a part of the Ford family for a decade, and it will certainly be tough to see him leave Ford and Roush Fenway Racing," he said prior to the recent Brickyard 400, making it seem likely that Edwards is infact heading to Gibbs Toyota.

With both Kenseth and now Edwards heading to the door, Jack Roush has brought in two highly rated young stars to take their place.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved into the number 17 in 2013 whilst Trevor Bayne will fill the void left by Carl Edwards. Aged just 26 and 23, Stenhouse and Bayne may be considerably younger than their predecessors Kenseth (42) and Edwards (34), but both already have impressive track records.

Stenhouse's rise to Kenseth's seat came following back-to-back Nationwide Series crowns behind the wheel of a Roush Ford, the first of which, in 2011, came in only his first full season in NASCAR's second tier competition.

Bayne meanwhile will move up to Roush's Sprint Cup organisation full time next year after following a rather different path to Stenhouse.

Since making his Cup Series debut for the Wood Brothers in 2010, Bayne has competed sporadically in America's premier level stock car racing series, catching the attention of everyone by winning the 2011 Daytona 500 - only his second ever start.

Alongside part-time cup programs, Bayne has also seen action in the Nationwide Series, taking two wins, and last year scoring his best finish in the championship to date with sixth.

Both of the young chargers may be relatively inexperienced in comparison to the championship challengers that preceded them, but seasoned racer Greg Biffle will remain a part of the Roush lineup going into next year, meaning that there will be one driver in the team with more than two years' full time Cup experience, having been part of Roush's Cup setup since 2002.

He wont be the only familiar face in the team next year though. Roush legend Mark Martin will be rejoining the team as a driver development coach.

Martin, who raced for Roush from 1988 to 2006 will work alongside Stenhouse, Bayne and Nationwide drivers Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed as well as Biffle in his new role in the team.

Speaking about his appointment, Martin was excited about the prospect of working with Roush's young drivers. 

"Nobody does a better job at developing young talent than Jack Roush." He said. "Roush Fenway has an abundance of young, talented drivers, and I'm looking forward to working with each of them going forward."

With a strong mix of youth and experience, Roush Fenway Racing appear to have put themselves in a strong position to bring an end to their decade-long championship drought, with Kurt Busch giving them their last Cup title in 2004.

Roush look set to do nothing but grow and succeed in the coming years, and with the "abundance of young, talented drivers" in their stable, there's no question, it looks like Roush will be a force to be reckoned with once more in the future.

All images - and foxsports

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