CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “never really thought it would happen.” Entering his ninth season in NASCAR, he’s now the “old guy” at Roush Fenway Racing.
“I’ve been at Roush Fenway the longest now,” Stenhouse said last week at the NASCAR Media Tour, three months after he turned 29. “I signed with Roush in 2007, so it’s been a while. It’s been a journey that I’ve enjoyed. It’s a new chapter for me now to kind of take the reins and make sure we lay the buggy in the right direction.”
Stenhouse is the lead driver after the previous “old guy,” Greg Biffle, amicably parted ways with the team the day after last year’s Cup Series finale. Biffle, 47, left after driving for Roush since 1998, when Stenhouse was 11 and teammate Trevor Bayne was 7.
Now Roush will only field Stenhouse and Bayne, making its Cup Series operation a two-car effort for the first time since 1995.
“I feel good about that and Trevor, along with me, we’re gonna have to make sure that when we come back from the weekend we let them know what direction we need to go to make our cars better and better every week,” said Stenhouse, who has yet to win in four full-time Cup seasons with Roush. “I think we started last season fairly strong and we fell off. That was something that we weren’t able to maintain and that’s something we’ve got down in our notes.”
Stenhouse earned a career-best four top fives last season before finishing 21st in the standings.
Bayne, entering his third season with Roush, said the car reduction and personnel changes in the offseason is a small part of a “culture shift” within the walls of the team that hasn’t won a race or made the playoffs the last two seasons.
“I feel like we did not keep up the way that we wanted to (last year),” Bayne said. “So what we have to learn is … ‘How do you stay motivated and make the gains from Michigan to Homestead that you make in the off-season, that you show up to Atlanta and Daytona with?’ That’s what we have to do as a team. We have to stay motivated.
“I think the guys are motivated, but we have to continue to communicate better. You’ve heard this a lot at Roush Fenway Racing in particular is a culture shift and a communication shift. I think that’s taking place. You don’t have a culture shift by replacing one or two people or by hiring new personnel. The culture shift has to be ingrained into every single person in the organization, and I think we’re getting closer and closer to being to that point where everybody believes that we can do it at Roush Fenway Racing.”
Another part of the culture shift – or culture maturation – is Bayne and Stenhouse putting aside any teammate rivalry, which was highlighted by Roush’s social media team anytime the drivers would be near each other on the track
“I think Ricky and I have kind of realized in the last couple of years of being teammates at the Cup level that it’s not Ricky versus Trevor anymore,” Bayne said. “It’s Roush Fenway Racing versus everybody else.”
Two years removed from its last Cup win, Roush Fenway will begin finding out if its “culture shift” will stick with the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.