CONCORD, N.C. – It didn’t take Carl Edwards but a few minutes following his win at Las Vegas to assess how far Roush Fenway Racing has come in the last year.
“The Fords are back, and we’re strong,” he declared.
His teammates are in full agreement.
After five races this season, the Roush organization is far ahead of where it was this time last year. Edwards earned his first win this month and goes to Martinsville Speedway this weekend as the Sprint Cup Series points leader.
Matt Kenseth is 10th in the standings with fourth-place finishes the last two weeks, Greg Biffle has overcome early problems to jump 11 spots in the standings to 20th, and David Ragan has run much better than his 22nd-place ranking reflects.
“You look at our car, you look at Matt’s car, you look at David’s car, look at all four of us,” says Biffle. “Damn, we’ve been right there. Really. That says something about our company, right?”
It certainly does considering how badly Roush and the Ford teams struggled through the first part of last season. The first victory didn’t come until Biffle’s win at Pocono in August, and although Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth all made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, they were never really considered title contenders.
But Biffle won the Chase race at Kansas, and Edwards closed the year with victories in the final two races. Edwards, Kenseth and Biffle finished the season ranked fourth, fifth and sixth – out of the three-man title race between Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, but close enough to let everyone know they’ll be a factor this year.
Edwards has been the most dominant of the Roush drivers so far, but the others feel they aren’t too far behind. Biffle was plagued by fuel issues at Las Vegas, but firmly believes “truth be known, I think I could have beat Carl that day.”
Kenseth doesn’t think his No. 17 team is quite at that level, but he knows the Roush Yates engines are strong – his pole at Las Vegas was just the fifth of his career – and knows his cars are a lot better than they were a year ago.
“We’re not running quite to (Edwards’) level, but it seems like we’re getting closer,” Kenseth said. “It seems like, as a group, all of our equipment seems to be faster and our cars seem to be quicker.”
Kenseth believes the team got too far behind last year early because it was adjusting to building cars for both Roush Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports, making the organization run “somewhat like a factory.”
“It was hard to build really nice cars because we were building to get everybody cars first,” Kenseth said.
Plus, Doug Yates has had an entire year to work on Ford’s FR9 engine, which was used only sporadically through the first part of last season as the engine shop continued development.
“I feel like them having a whole year to work with the FR9 and a whole offseason, I think they’ve picked the engines up a lot,” Kenseth said. “I think we’re a lot more competitive on power than probably what we were at the beginning of last year.”
That was evident at the season-opening Daytona 500 when Ragan, winless through his first four full seasons, was racing for the victory at the end of the race. He restarted as the leader late, but was penalized for pulling out of his lane too soon.
It’s been about how his season has gone, as Ragan doesn’t have the finishes to show for how well he’s been running.
“I think we’re two good runs away from being in the top 15,” Ragan said. “We’ve just got to do our jobs a little bit better all the way through the weekend, and that’s from me giving better information on Saturday, making better changes to start the race on Sunday. We’ve had fast cars in all five races we’ve run, so I think it’s there and we’ve just got to do a better job with what we’ve got.
“That’s on my shoulders. … We’ve got fast race cars.”