It was a year of progress in 2017 for the Roush/Fenway Racing camp. That’s something they can hang their hats on. A little over a decade ago, RFR was fielding five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams. In fact, in one season, all five made the playoffs. But, as time went on, the organization slowly began to shrink.
Now, it’s down to just two cars.
But, since they’ve downsized, they’ve been gaining more and more speed back. Now, they’re aiming at getting both drivers into the 2018 playoffs this season. Can they do it?
Here are their five storylines.
Continue Plate Success
It’s no secret, the bread and butter for RFR right now is their plate program. That’s one aspect of racing where the speed has never really went away for them. Take last year for example, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won not just one Cup race, but two in total. In fact, both were on plate tracks too. The Mississippi native won last May at Talladega and then won in the annual July return trip to Daytona.
This season, Ford seems to have a disadvantage on most tracks. I don’t see their advantage on plate tracks slipping though. So, if RFR is going to grow further from their success last year, they better put at least one of their two drivers into victory lane in the three regular season plate races.
Improvement On 1.5-Mile Tracks
You can see the business model here for RFR. Scale back to fit the resources available. Gain addition by subtraction per say.
Then, maximize where you’re already strong at – plate tracks.
Pick another type of discipline of tracks to gain on and improve in that area.
Next, pick another discipline of tracks to improve your team.
Work in progress.
RFR is pulling all their resources for Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne. Both have seen year or year improvement over the last two seasons. They’ve also continued their plate success with winning half of the four points paying plate races in 2017. Then, they’ve drastically improved their short track game too. Six of Stenhouse’s nine top 10 finishes last season came on tracks one-mile or shorter in length. His two wins were on plate tracks.
See where this is going?
Now, if they really want to improve, they need to get much better on 1.5-mile tracks. Those are NASCAR’s bread and butter venues now.
Other than plate tracks or tracks one-mile in length or shorter, Stenhouse has just two top 10 finishes in his entire career on anything else.
Out of Bayne’s 16 career top 10 Cup finishes, just two were on 1.5-mile tracks himself too.
Between the duo, they’ve made 350 career Cup starts and combined to score 42 top 10 finishes between them. Just four of those races saw them grab a top 10 finish.
See where improvement is needed for this group to contend?
Will Ford Disadvantage Hurt RFR
I keep talking about improvement for this team and gaining from 2016 to 2017 and hopefully from 2017 to 2018, but what happens if Ford really does have a big disadvantage compared to the Toyota and Chevrolet camps? How much of this will hurt a team like RFR, with limited resources?
Toyota got a new car last year and they dominated the 2017 season. Chevrolet is getting a new car this year and is expecting similar gains in their area too. Where does that leave Ford who is racing with the same car that they struggled with last year?
It may hurt all of the Ford teams, which could cause a step backwards for RFR in stats for 2018.
New Year, New Stenhouse
Last year proved that Stenhouse could be a rising star still in the series. The 30 year old won his first two career Cup races and is hoping to show everyone that his two NASCAR XFINITY Series championships were no fluke. But, now with the offseason news that he and Danica Patrick have broken up, it’s going to be a brand new year in NASCAR for the Mississippi native.
Think about it, since Stenhouse was still in the XFINITY Series, life as he knew it was weekends with racing and Danica. They both raced in the same series for most of his NASCAR career. Now, he’s on his own as that chapter is now shut.
How will he react when life at the track will be much different for him?
This is something to honestly watch in 2018.
Important Season For Bayne’s NASCAR Future
Trevor Bayne was NASCAR’s darling in 2011 when the then 20 year old became the youngest Daytona 500 champion ever. That was just his second career Cup start and there he was in victory lane with the Wood Brothers. While he may have been in the famed No. 21 Ford for the iconic team, he was there on loan from Roush Fenway Racing.
In 2015, he fully moved over to RFR and took over the No. 6 Ford. It was supposed to be his chance to show us that the thrilling win in 2011 was no fluke. Unfortunately, seven years after that upset victory, he hasn’t done much to prove otherwise.
As the youth movement is on full song, RFR could look to move some of their younger drivers up. While Bayne, 26, is no where close to being old, RFR could look to replace him though with someone like a Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski or someone like that. With 166 career Cup starts to his credit, he should have more than five career top five finishes.
Those type of stats get you fired from rides.
With RFR having a resurgence and Stenhouse winning twice last year, it’s time for Bayne to start knocking on the door of victory lane. He needs to contend for a playoff spot or his time with RFR could be coming to an end soon.
2018 is a big year for Bayne to show everyone what he’s got.