Roush set to begin evaluation for future

About 10 years ago, I wrote an awesome column. I remember it pretty clearly. It involved Tony Stewart and (expletive deleted). It won a press association award in South Carolina. People still ask me about it.

I’m still riding that one good column 10 years later.

Does this sound familiar?

While one press association award and a witty 700 words don’t quite rank with a Daytona 500 win, there are some parallels with Trevor Bayne, who has been riding his huge upset in the 2011 running of the Great American Race for seven-plus years to a decent career. He drove part time for the Wood Brothers from 2011 until 2014 in the Cup Series, making 57 starts before moving over the Roush-Fenway Racing in 2015 to run full time in the No. 6.

In total, he has 175 starts in Cup. In those 175 starts, he has the one win, five top-five, 16 top-10 finishes and 77 lead-lap finishes for an average of 23.2. He has led a total of 71 laps. His numbers in the Xfinity Series are marginally better: two wins, 25 top fives and 73 top 10s in 152 starts since 2009.

In 2018’s first nine races, Bayne only has two lead-lap finishes, two DNFs (crash and engine failure) and an average finish of 23.9.

Those numbers, seven-year-old Daytona 500 win notwithstanding, make what happened (or what will happen officially in a few hours of this writing) this week not surprising. Bayne has basically been benched for parts of the remainder of the 2018 season. The news broke on Monday that Matt Kenseth would be returning to Roush, where he started his full-time career back in 2000 and won 24 of his 39 races and a championship in 2003, to share a ride with Bayne for the balance of the year.

The announcement from Roush hasn’t happened yet, so we haven’t heard the details from Jack yet on how many races Kenseth will run – and I wouldn’t be surprised if Xfinity driver Ryan Reed doesn’t get a share of the season’s races in the No. 6 – and how many Bayne will run. I’d be willing to bet it’s going to be heavy Kenseth for the next 27 races.

Kenseth was adamant he wasn’t retiring when Joe Gibbs Racing decided youngster Eric Jones was moving into the soon-to-be 46-year old’s seat. He insisted he still had something in the tank and went out and proved it by winning 2017’s next-to-last race at Phoenix.

For Roush, the move is not without precedent. In 2010, the team pulled Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from his Xfinity Series ride for a couple races after a rash of wrecks, two lead-lap finishes and a DNQ in the season’s first 13 races. Stenhouse responded by finishing 16 of his next 20 starts on the lead lap in 2010 and going out and winning the 2011 and 2012 championships.

Let’s not forget that Bayne is still a young guy. He just turned 27 in February; his Daytona 500 win came at the ripe-old age of 20. I wouldn’t put his career at Roush in the grave yet, but it’s not going to look good for the Knoxville-Tenn. native if Kenseth goes out and lights it up and wins a couple races, which is possible. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that Roush was one of the, if not the top, team in NASCAR. I mean, they have two championships and 137 wins in 30 years of Cup racing and at one point fielded five cars.

However, before Stenhouse’s two restrictor-plate wins last year, they had not won a race in three years and since 2012 have lost Kenseth and his 24 wins, Carl Edwards (who also went to Gibbs), with 23 and Greg Biffle’s 19 trips to victory lane.

With Kenseth coming on board, it gives the organization a good chance to evaluate what they have and determine where the week link is. Is it the driver lineup or the cars or the culture or something else? They are hoping to find out with Kenseth coming home. For Roush, it looks like there is no more celebrating the past wins and a renewed focus on getting better and adding a few more trophies to the mantle.

I just hope my editors don’t do the same.

Homer alert: Ricky Benton Racing is heading back to the Cup Series this weekend at Talladega. This time they are taking Timothy Peters to the track for the GEICO 500. It will be Peters’ first start in the series. He is a 10-time winner in the trucks and finished seventh driving for the team in that series at Martinsville last month. Again, this is an eastern-N.C. team based in Cerro Gordo in Columbus County with three full-time guys at the shop building cars and trucks. The team is led by Bladenboro’s Mike Hester.

If you don’t have a rooting interest already, they would be a good group to pull for.

Andy Cagle can be reached at andycagle78@gmail.com.

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