After a down 2015, Roush Fenway Racing drivers enjoying ‘new normal’

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

There’s a “new normal” at Roush Fenway Racing.

After a dismal 2015 there’s more structure, less finger-pointing and all three teams are competing toward the front.

To top it off, Trevor Bayne is getting some sleep.

“Last year I feel like I had to beat myself up a little bit,” Bayne recently told NBC Sports. “I’d be looking at data and having sleepless nights trying to figure how I could drive the car different, and now this year that we have faster cars, I feel like I can kinda do what I know how to do naturally.”

Bayne is 20th in the Sprint Cup standings after 14 races. At this point last year, his first full season with Roush, he was 30th. Heading to Michigan International Speedway, Bayne has one top five and two top-1o finishes.

The biggest sign of improved speed for Roush is in qualifying. Bayne has advanced to the second round of qualifying 10 times and the final round five times. Bayne has an average start of 16.8. His average last year was 27.9.

“Last season I feel like qualifying was one of the hardest parts of my weekend,” Bayne said. “We would be 30th, you know? Hardly making the second round at times, and this season we’ve made it to the final round almost every week, and I think (crew chief) Matt (Puccia) does a really good job.”

The improvements are even more significant for fourth-year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse has started in the top 10 seven times. Last year, Stenhouse started in the top 10 just three times. For the Coca-Cola 600, all three of Roush’s car qualified in the top 10 for the first time since 2013 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“The new normal at Roush Fenway is everybody is working together,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports. “It’s not blaming this department or this department … I feel like everyone has been hands on, in the ditch with each other, you know digging and trying to claw our way out of this and I think it’s been showing.”

Greg Biffle‘s best finish through 14 races is 11th in the Coke 600, which he started a season-best sixth in.

“We’re definitely on an upswing, especially the 16 team,” Biffle told NBC Sports. “The problem is we don’t have any results to show for it. Meaning we’re not able to close right now. So, we’re getting to the three-quarter point in the race, things are happening, we’re getting involved in stuff. Or particularly Dover, the big wreck. Probably had one of the best cars we did all season.”

Biffle isn’t sitting by as the team tries to return to the level of competition it enjoyed when he started racing full-time for Roush in 2003.

That’s included Biffle coordinating pit stop practices among the teams and driving the pit stop car. It’s one way Biffle has committed to show he’s in “100 percent” to build Roush back up.

“I took charge and went down to pit stop practice and told the guys, ‘Hey, I’m going to be here every week for the next month, or one day a week, and I’m going to drive the pit stop car and we’re going to practice other things,’ ” Biffle said. “I recognized that they were kind of stuck in the same old routine and it needed to be changed up. And it brought so much energy and life back into my team that at Dover we had the best pit stops we’ve had in six months. And so then I went to Trevor and Ricky and asked them to do the same thing with their team.”

The more cohesive operation at Roush has the team the closest it’s been to consistently competing since Carl Edwards won at Sonoma Raceway in 2014. It’s seen Bayne, who hasn’t won since his 2011 Daytona 500 upset, lead a career-high 22 laps at Talladega Superspeedway to make his season total 34, also a career best.

After struggling in the back of the pack in 2015, Roush is showing signs it can turn its “new normal” into the kind of success Mark Martin helped create for the team during the height of his Hall of Fame career in the 1990s.

“It takes time to catch up and it’s hard to catch up,” Bayne said. “The guys that you’re trying to beat are also getting better. So you have to make huge gains to do what we’re doing this season.”

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)