Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Is Roush Fenway Racing the Team to Beat in 2012?

There is one hugely valid train of thought that simply leaving Talladega in good health is victory enough: just ask poor Eric McClure, who had to be cut from his car after a horrific wreck in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon (May 5).

For a man who has suffered much more than most – his home was destroyed in a tornado about this time last year – it was a hideously cruel blow. Had he hit a little to the right he wouldn’t even have had SAFER barriers to help absorb and mitigate against the force of the wreck.

Thankfully, despite remaining in hospital for a second night on Sunday, word is (as I write on Monday) that McClure is stable. God willing, he’ll be back in a racecar before too long.

Editor’s Note: McClure was released from the hospital Monday afternoon.

On the other end of the spectrum this weekend were Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth; both of whom could and in the case of the latter should have won the race.

Biffle ended up settling for a fifth-place finish while his teammate and running partner for much of the 500 miles, Kenseth, finished third behind Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch (who is in a rich vein of form, having won at Richmond last weekend.)

The results also kept Biffle atop the points standings; a position he’s occupied pretty much all season while Kenseth moved up a spot to second place, just seven points away from his friend and Roush Fenway Racing colleague.

It wasn’t such a good weekend for the other RFR driver, Carl Edwards, who finished a distant 31st after being caught up in a nine-car wreck some 50 circuits from the finish. Edwards, who pushed Tony Stewart right to the bitter end last season, sits in 11th after a sluggish and relatively anonymous start to the 2012 season. All told though, it’s been a great start to the season and for now, at least, they look like the team to beat.

Let’s consider the evidence, starting with a rejuvenated Biffle. Looking to become the first man in history to win the championship at each of NASCAR’s top three echelons, Biffle is off to a flying start in 2012 with five top-five finishes, six top 10s, a pole position (Bristol) and of course the big win at Texas which snapped a long barren streak of some 49 races.

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His three other finishes included two 13th-place runs at Bristol and Martinsville and a season low of 18th at Richmond – good for an average finish of seventh. Now in his 11th year at the Cup level and veteran of some 340 races, Biffle looks to be authoring the kind of season that will see him become a factor deep into the 2012 Chase.

The Biff finished second to Stewart in 2005 (a theme for RFR drivers it seems) and then third behind the relentless Jimmie Johnson in 2008; he also finished seventh in 2009 and sixth in 2010. Last year was a disappointing one for the Biff, who ended up a lowly 16th, but perhaps the key factor was the midseason crew chief swap which saw Matt Puccia pick up the head wrench duties from Greg Erwin after the four-year partnership showed signs of wear and tear.

Puccia and Biffle appear to be in lock step and that will only increase as they start to visit tracks for a second, and in some cases third time. Look out for the Biff, he’s here to stay.

Longtime RFR stablemate Kenseth is also off to a fine start in 2012; a year that started with a win the Jet Dryer 500 … sorry, I meant the Great American race. From there it’s been pretty much business as usual for Kenseth, leading laps in eight of the 10 races and finishing well – he has an additional five top-five finishes to complement his Daytona 500 victory.

Long story short, Kenseth, like Biffle, appears to be a bonafide challenger in 2012, just as he has been for much of his storied 15-year, 446-race career. Redolent of his laconic style, Kenseth was quick to quip after that he “was just too stupid I guess at the end to keep a win…” after leading 73 laps of the day on the perilous high banks of the beast that is Talladega.

And if Kenseth is able to joke after appearing to have the quickest car in the entire field, everyone else should watch out. Like the Biff, Kenseth is a clear and present danger for the championship this year.

And then there’s everybody’s favorite back-flipper, Cousin Carl Edwards, who sits in 11th place in the points with two top fives and six top 10s. After the way his 2011 season finished – in such bitter disappointment – Edwards has bounced back decently with only two poor finishes: 31st yesterday and 39th at Bristol after being caught up in a Kasey Kahne-induced wreck on lap 25 of 500.

Other than that, Edwards has shown his usual levels of consistency without really hitting the heights. Fact is though, Edwards just needs to be in the Chase field. We’ve seen before he’s more than capable of challenging once he gets there. And were it not for a game changer of a Chase from Stewart, we’d be talking about the 2011 champion.

Simply put, given the strength of the RFR Ford Fusions, Edwards should make the Chase, and from there anything can happen. Don’t rule out a win in the next few weeks either.

The future looks bright in 2012 for Roush Fenway Racing. Everyone else better step up and take notice.

One Final Point: I know it’s been discussed and commented ad nauseam, but I couldn’t finish up this week without mentioning Kurt Busch’s Talladega Nights paint scheme. In a sport known for its colorful and often very creative schemes, this has to be my instant all-time favorite.

And just so ridiculously apropos for Busch – himself something of a pantomime villain. The fun they clearly had with it all weekend long just made it better. Busch is a driver I am quick to bash, often for his utter stupidity, but this was a quality move. Looking forward to seeing what the James Finch team can come up with next. Perhaps a one-race deal for the fall Talladega race with Wonder Bread?

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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