There is “no doubt” to Kevin Kidd that Roush Fenway Racing has a much stronger starting point this season than last. Given that, the organization is aiming for an uptick with consistency by its two NASCAR Cup Series teams.
“At Roush Fenway Racing, we pride ourselves on being competitive and being in the hunt for wins and everything else, and getting wins,” said Kidd, the director of competition at Roush. “But what we really cherish all the way up at Jack Roush’s level is consistency week in and week out. If you look at the programs that Jack’s had that’s been super successful, you go back to 2003 with Matt Kenseth. They won that championship basically being just dead consistent week in and week out. We love that. We thrive on that.
“And so, when you look at the style of racing that Ryan [Newman] put on the racetrack last year, it really fit the mold that Roush Fenway has always been. When you look at what Chris Buescher did at his former company, it’s kind of from that same mold — very consistent. So, we’re looking to really get some consistency with both teams and go just bite away at it and continue to improve our company and get it up to a high level.”
In his first season driving the No. 6 Ford Mustang, Newman and crew chief Scott Graves had to get past the new team blues before becoming one that could contend in the back half of the top 10. Newman made the playoffs and ended the year with 14 top-10 finishes, three top-five finishes, and only one DNF. An average finish of 14.6 was good enough for 15th in the standings.
There wasn’t similar success for the No. 17 team with now former driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse earned three top-10 finishes, failed to make the postseason, and was 23rd in the overall standings with an average finish of 20.5.
This year Chris Buescher will drive the 17 car with Luke Lambert, who joins the company from Richard Childress Racing, as his crew chief. Buescher finished ahead of Stenhouse in the standings last year (20th) while also earning a better average finish (17.8).
“One of our goals going into 2020 is to put the 6 guys in a more comfortable position of making the playoffs, not making it by the skin of our teeth at the last race,” said Kidd. “And certainly, with the 17, it’s doing the same to a certain degree.
“To do that, you’ve got to collect stage points; you got to get those bonus points, so to speak, to be able to have more margin. That is an area we were weak in last year, and it’s certainly an area we’re looking to improve. In terms of how to improve it, we can spend two hours talking about that. The reality is it takes faster cars and a little better decision-making and execution at a race weekend, and just putting yourself in a spot where you can go get it, and we’re working pretty hard on that.”
Neither Newman or Stenhouse ranked inside the top 15 of drivers for stage points earned last year.
With a split aero package, Cup Series teams have found themselves having to balance race performance versus qualifying performance. Some teams learned a car trimmed out for qualifying didn’t necessarily race well and vice versa.
Roush Fenway placed great emphasis last year on getting their cars to drive and handle well and have the appropriate amount of downforce. In doing so, a team like Newman’s became a good race team but one of the worst qualifying teams (he started inside the top 15 just seven times in 36 races). According to Kidd, to be in the hunt for stage points, Roush Fenway needs to find the balance where they will be “at least be middle of the road” in qualifying.
As for Roush getting back to its winning ways, Kidd felt some races could have fallen their way last year had certain situations played out. But for the most part, he conceded the company needs to keep chipping away at its consistency before the wins will come.
“I think where we’re at legitimately right now is week in, week out we are probably not at the level of competing for wins like we want to be,” said Kidd. “That’s just obvious. Everybody watches the races. Where I think we’re legitimately at is we’re going to catch some races this year where we’re going to be in the hunt, and if we catch the right breaks and put ourselves in the right position — make the right decision, have good pit stops, do all the right things — then those opportunities should present themselves.
“Then, we need to capitalize on them. We need to go after them. When we’re there in that moment, we have to be a strong enough organization and teams to go capitalize.”