If your name isn’t Rick Hendrick or Joe Gibbs, you probably haven’t had much to celebrate thus far in 2010. Hendrick and Gibbs combined have won 11 of the 16 races to date, with seven belonging to JGR and four to HMS.
Other teams have had their moments in the sun, but none have come close to those two. Week after week, JGR and HMS throw down the gauntlet that has yet to be matched, try as other teams might.
Jack Roush has tried and it hasn’t been easy.
For the second time this year Roush made a crew chief change for his No. 17 driven by Matt Kenseth. Jimmy Fennig becomes the third man in 2010 to grace the Crown Royal pit box after Drew Blickensderfer gave way to Todd Parrot after the season-opening Daytona 500. That partnership lasted up until last week in Sonoma.
For Kenseth, the change comes as he sits seventh in Sprint Cup Series points, the highest of the RFR cars. Things looked promising early on with the addition of Parrott, but in NASCAR looks can be deceiving. Roush wasn’t happy with what he was seeing.
“What can I say about a crew chief change,” Roush said on Friday at New Hampshire. “We’re blessed at Roush-Fenway with a lot of able and talented people with years and years, decades and decade of experience, continually working for and looking for the best chemistry between a driver and crew chief and the best relationship between a crew chief and his team.
“If you said what was the reason we made the crew chief change on the 17 this week, I guess there was two reasons for it,” he continued. “We weren’t getting the number of changes in a practice session that we thought we needed, we were a little slow in the garage area and don’t fault the guys for that, the direction or the plan may not have been well defined or understood.
“We had difficulty getting through tech at [Sonoma] and nearly from the number of times it had to go around for things that were found not to be the way NASCAR wanted them, some thought that we might not be able to qualify.”
Kenseth did get to qualify last week, but a flat tire caused his poor starting position. Strategy and poor results from the team as well as the troubles last weekend, prompted the change. The team simply wasn’t where it needed to be Roush said, and neither was the all-important chemistry.
Chemistry that doesn’t seem to have found it’s way to any of the RFR drivers this year. While three of their four cars are sitting inside the Chase currenly: Kenseth seventh, Biffle ninth, and Edwards 12th — David Ragan sits 25th in points — the organization hasn’t won since the fall of 2009.
That win came from a driver that was released at the end of the year, Jamie McMurray, with Edwards and Biffle having not won since 2008. Over the last few weeks RFR drivers have said the problem isn’t the engine, many believing once they switched to the new FR9 engine it would help their cause, but instead it’s been how the car drives through the corners.
Roush, never one to hide his emotions, didn’t hold back in the press conference and said that a combination of a few different things were hindering his teams.
“The elephant in the room is that we’ve not unloaded with as much speed as we’ve historically unloaded with,” Roush said. “Same able drivers, the same great support from Ford Motor Company, we haven’t had a manufacturer affiliation change, and same great cast of characters... we haven’t had a major revolution or change in the guard, but we’ve unloaded not as good as we should."
The cause of it Roush said, “I attribute that to NASCAR’s, not that it’s NASCAR’s problem because it’s the same for everybody, but when we eliminated the racetrack testing we didn’t have a chance to go back and benchmark the testing that we could do against the racetracks you’re going to race at. Lacking that benchmark we’re left to the major part of what we would carry to the racetrack is based on historical information from the previous year or from simulation things.”
The lack of testing and what he revealed to be inaccurate software simulation predictions appears to be some of the headaches that RFR have faced. Roush continued to dominate the conversation over Kenseth, laying it all out about how things were going and what he wasn’t pleased with.
In terms of the testing ban, he did reveal NASCAR President Mike Helton might open it back up, however Roush doesn’t have the details of what it would entail and only provided what he would want to see happen. RFR can’t wait to see what might happen down the road, there needs to be no rest for the weary if they want to get to victory lane, the Chase, and contend for a championship.
As an owner, Roush is know for not being afraid to make changes, yet made it clear that he won’t be making any to the Edwards or Biffle crews. At least not right now.
“We’ve got great people that are not faulted for the lack of ideal performance, and we’re giving ourselves time to work things out. I’m sure people wonder how my mind works the same as I look at other folks that are in decision-making positions and wonder how their minds work,” he said.
“As it relates to the managership and my race teams — and I’m talking about the speedway manager, I’m talking about the R&D manager, I’m talking about the general manager, I’m talking about the crew chiefs, and I’m talking about the engineering manager. I would look at all those as being candidates for any of the managership jobs that we have and would happily look at opportunities to rotate folks where careers would be expanded and chemistry could be improved.
“We’re continually looking at a possible combination of things that could be beneficial, but, as I said, I don’t fault the people for the fact that we don’t unload as good as we should. It’s a combination of what our predictive capabilities have been and the lack of testing.”
And until things change, those not related to his team, Jack Roush won’t be very happy and everyone will know it.