Roush drivers find gains, won't reveal them
February 18, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Given Roush Fenway Racing's place on the speed charts in practice, it translated as at least a mild upset to see all three RFR Fords in the top 10 after Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying.
Count Carl Edwards among the bowled over.
"To be honest, I wasn't expecting the lap to be that good, so it's a pleasant surprise," said Edwards, who logged the fourth-best time in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford. "It's hard to explain how much work goes into these cars. When we left here testing we were 30th place or something, and they massaged on every little part of that car, and I'm really proud of my guys. It's pretty cool to have this fast of a race car."
When Jack Roush's cars left Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 10, the longtime Ford team owner couldn't have been pleased to see Chevrolets in 12 of the top 14 spots on the leaderboard. Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford was the best of the Roush Fenway bunch at 26th-fastest, nearly a full second off the pace set by rookie Austin Dillon. Behind him were teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 32nd and Edwards in 36th out of the 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers to participate in the preseason shakedown.
In Saturday's Daytona 500 practice, Roush Fenway's prospects grew a little brighter. Biffle jumped most dramatically, placing seventh on the speed chart in each session. His teammates' gains were more modest, with Edwards 12th and 26th and Stenhouse 27th and 29th.
No one in the Roush Fenway camp was willing to disclose where their teams improved Sunday, but the consensus was that extra effort from their crews was enough to shave time off their qualifying laps.
"Everybody's just worked so hard," said Biffle, who briefly held the provisional Coors Light Pole Award in the late stages of qualifying. "We went home (after January testing) and the guys put their heads to the grinding stone and have worked really, really hard. There wasn't a whole lot I could do to help them, just run a flawless lap out there and I did that. They brought the car and the engine that's fast enough for where we are now."
Biffle eventually ceded the top spot to pole winner Dillon, who locked into the front row for Sunday's season-opener (1 p.m. ET, FOX) with second-fastest Martin Truex Jr., whose Furniture Row Racing team shares a technical alliance with Dillon's Richard Childress Racing operation. But right on the heels of the two Chevys on the qualifying sheet was Biffle's Ford in third and Edwards' in fourth.
Stenhouse held his own, setting the ninth-fastest time of the 48 drivers to complete qualifying laps Sunday. Be it gamesmanship or just a more measured, methodical approach during practice, Stenhouse knew his team had some speed in reserve once time trials began.
"We're never really fast down here in the test," said Stenhouse, who will make his third Daytona 500 start next weekend. "I think some other guys kind of go all-out at the test and we just try to keep everything the same and make sure what we do back-to-back and the changes we are making are positive changes. That's all we really focus on. We don't focus on trying to go out there and be the fastest the whole time.
"I think it's cool to see all of us on the pylon. That's a positive."