Judging by results at a NASCAR test at Charlotte Motor Speedway last December and one on Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing is struggling when it comes to its intermediate program at the Sprint Cup Series level. Yesterday at LVMS, Sprint Cup teams completed their first test with a newly-implemented intermediate track rules package and, as a result, got extra track time at the site of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup Series race.
Roush Fenway Racing, a team for which mile-and-a-half tracks used to be its bread and butter, so to speak, struggled in Thursday’s Las Vegas test. Out of 48 cars that took the track, Carl Edwards’ No. 99 Ford was the fastest among the Roush Fenway Racing trio, and he was only 27th on the speed chart. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came in at 29th, and Greg Biffle was the slowest, posting a fast lap time that was 34th among the 48 who took track time.
Roush Fenway also didn’t fare too well when it came to best 10-consecutive lap average speeds, or at least none of the RFR drivers cracked the top-10 in that statistical category.
Biffle spoke to the media about the Las Vegas test session after it was completed on Thursday, and here’s what he had to say:
WHAT DID YOU WORK THROUGH TODAY?
“I’m willing to talk about anything but today’s test, so any questions that you guys have I’d be more than happy to answer, but it was a pretty tough day for us.”
IS YOUR CONTRACT DONE YET? “No.”
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS ARE OFF TODAY?
“Last year I was the fastest on Thursday, probably the third-fastest on Friday, 12th on Saturday and I was 25th on Sunday. This year I’m 34th on Thursday, and hoping that I’m about 20th tomorrow and maybe 12th Saturday and win on Sunday, but that’s about as good of an analogy I can give you on what is wrong and why our fastest car is 27th. I really honestly wish I had more to tell you about it, but we just aren’t getting a hold of the race track is about the best I can say.”
IS THERE A LONG-TERM WORRY SINCE THERE ARE SO MANY INTERMEDIATE TRACKS?
“I think we recognized, we talked over the winter or at the end of last season that our intermediate track program really suffered and that was the flagship of Roush Fenway. And actually a pleasant surprise, our short-track program, which was always the toughest for us actually picked up and we made, what I’m going to consider with the 16 team, a fairly significant gain in our short-track program – Richmond, Loudon, Martinsville – a pretty good improvement. Phoenix, finished third in the fall, so that was kind of light at the end of the tunnel. Our focus was, or at least mine was, let’s get back on track at the intermediates and then we’ll be a threat. It’s painfully apparent that that’s not – and today, it’s a half-second, so we could find some things with the car that’s not right. These cars are really, really finicky. We know that, so that speed could just come up somewhere and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
WAS THE SITUATION AS DISAPPOINTING AT THE CHARLOTTE TEST IN DECEMBER OR ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED YOU MAYBE DIDN’T MAKE MORE IMPROVEMENT SINCE THEN?
“I felt like the Charlotte test was kind of the same old hat. We were in the mix. We had decent speed and our car drove decent, so the Charlotte test I don’t think there were any real red flags or any reason for concern, and I’m not saying there is yet, but, obviously, we just have to reformulate a new formula on what we have right now. Like I say, these cars are super, super finicky, so it could be a small spring combination. I know one thing, two years ago I was at Michigan and I was horrible – like couldn’t make a lap horrible – and we looked at Matt’s setup and he had a little bit different rear spring combination and we said, ‘OK, tomorrow we’re gonna start with that,’ and we were the fastest car both practices on Saturday and won the race with one spring change. So that gives us some insight. We’ve got to take that direction because we don’t have a guy that is very fast to take a look at and say, ‘Hey, what do they have.’ Now, we did recognize last week we weren’t very fast in race trim, went to q-trim and went to the top of the board and were sixth in both of the qualifying sessions and had a pretty fast car. The 21 car is third on the board in q-trim, so is there some formula between qualifying and race trim that is giving us a little fuss right now. Actually, we learned a little bit in qualifying trim last week and applied that to race trim, so maybe that’s the same thing that’s gonna happen here.”
TOMORROW IS THE FIRST THREE-SEGMENT QUALIFYING SESSION SO DID THE QUALIFYING AT PHOENIX TAKE SOME OF THE MYSTERY OUT OF IT?
“I think it took some mystery out of it, really, it did for us. Now, I might back up a little bit on that statement because the temperature of the engine is a big deal and this being a mile-and-a-half is significantly different than a one-mile on throttle time and run time on the engine, so this is a much bigger track. You’ve got to make a minimum of three runs with having to cool the engine down enough to be able to do that with just a fan. So that could be challenging, especially if a guy wants to go out and try to better his lap like we saw last week. Guys were able to go out and squeak out a little faster lap. Well, if that’s the case, you’re really dead for the next session because you’re not gonna get cool enough until then. So it’s probably gonna be a mystery tomorrow on how all of that works out, but last week was pretty uneventful for us. We went and we were second-quick and then got bumped back to sixth, and then the same thing happened in the second session for us. We were in a good position last week and we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow what that brings, but I feel pretty good that Trevor’s that fast in q-trim. Obviously, I think only maybe 12-15 cars made q-runs today, so when everybody does it, then it might be a different story.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR