With Edwards leaving, Roush to have younger look
July 27, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- At Roush Fenway Racing, the youth movement is in full swing.
One of NASCAR's top teams will move forward next season with a pair of young drivers playing more prominent roles. The announcement Sunday of Carl Edwards' departure at season's end means Jack Roush will field a 2015 Sprint Cup Series lineup featuring veteran Greg Biffle and a pair of 20-somethings -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.
In many ways that feels like a departure for a Roush team that very recently boasted a seasoned lineup including Biffle, Edwards and Matt Kenseth, three drivers in the prime of their respective careers. Kenseth left following the 2012 season for Joe Gibbs Racing, with whom he won seven times last year. Now Edwards will be gone after the 2014 campaign, bound for a destination yet to be announced.
And the team he leaves behind will have a very different look -- 44-year-old mainstay Biffle, winner of 19 races at NASCAR's top level, along with the 26-year-old Stenhouse and the 23-year-old Bayne. The two younger drivers have 60 and 53 career premier-level starts, respectively, entering Sunday's event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and one victory between them -- Bayne's triumph in the 2011 Daytona 500.
What does Roush think of his team's makeup for 2015? "It doesn’t look different than when Mark Martin stepped away and we were left with Greg and Carl to go forward. We've been in this business for 27 years and counting, and we've made it our habit, our practice, our preference to bring drivers in," he said.
"We've brought in 23 drivers who had never been a part of NASCAR before, 19 of them are still in the sport, and 17 of them have won races. So we're pretty much on time. We have a great field of rookies coming with Ryan Reed and with Chris Buescher. They’ll be in our Nationwide program. But there's also some room, and we might have more rookies. But Ricky and Trevor and Greg are going to be great. I'm really excited about that for next year. Not any less excited than I've been at any time in the past."
Bayne currently drives full-time in the Nationwide Series, and part-time for the Roush-affiliated Wood Brothers team on the Sprint Cup tour. Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide champion in his second full-time Sprint Cup season, has struggled somewhat to adapt at NASCAR's highest level and currently stands 28th in points. But Roush said the driver of the No. 17 car is still "detoxing" from the less-powerful vehicles used on the Nationwide circuit, and the owner's faith remains strong. "Ricky Stenhouse is going to be as good in this business as anybody has been," Roush said.
Sponsorship for next year is still in flux, Roush said, although AdvoCare will act as primary on Bayne's No. 6 car in 2015, while Fastenal announced Sunday it wound anchor Stenhouse's No. 17 beginning next season. Edwards' No. 99 will not be a full-time car next year "unless something unusual happens," said Roush president Steve Newmark. Roush also indicated that current Nationwide participants Reed and Buescher would remain in place. Those drivers are 20 and 21 years old respectively, adding more momentum to the organization's youth movement.
From a Roush perspective, though, these moves fall in line with a philosophy based on promotion from within. The team has reacted similarly in the past, bringing up then-younger drivers like Kurt Busch, David Ragan, and even Kenseth and Edwards back in the day.
"We’ve always been a driver development program. It's in our DNA," Newmark said. "… When you take the approach that we do, which is generally not going out on the free agent market and trying to develop from within, these type of circumstances are going to happen. The key is to make sure you have a very fertile playing field behind that, and a good group coning up, and we feel we do in Ricky and Trevor, Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher. That’s just the way we operate, and we're pretty proud of how that's worked for us in the past."
Even so, Edwards has been a constant in the Roush lineup since 2004, winning 23 races and twice coming close to a championship over that span. Next year the burden of leadership will clearly fall on Biffle, who as of 2015 will be the team's only driver to have made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But Roush knows his two younger drivers will also need to step up.
"Certainly the focus of our leadership is going to be with Greg Biffle, and the things he does in the race car and the leadership he provides with the engineering initiatives we take. We had that split with Carl and Greg this year, so that will be a little different next year," Roush said. "But Ricky is ready to step up. Trevor is a Daytona 500 winner, and he drives his car with great enthusiasm in the Nationwide Series. We're not going to be in a bad place next year, it's just going to be a little bit different."