Sports

Roush Fenway cars struggle at NHMS

LOUDON, N.H. — Just minutes after the conclusion of Sunday’s Sylvania 300, Greg Biffle darted out of the garage and hustled away from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It might have been the most speed the Roush Fenway Racing driver showed all day.

The Fenway brand has been hammered all year on Lansdowne Street. On Sunday, that battering carried over onto Route 106, the stretch of Loudon Road where NHMS is located.

The driver of the No. 16 Ford Fusion sputtered to an 18th-place finish. It was the worst result by any of the 12 Chasers.

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Biffle started the race in eighth place in the standings, 19 points behind Brad Keselowski. Biffle is now in ninth place and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 33 points.

“We were just battling overall grip,” Biffle said. “Our car just didn’t have any grip right when we unloaded off the truck, and we never fixed it. We were way loose in the corner and had no rear grip.”

There were few moments when Biffle’s car was in contention. In that sense, Biffle was not alone.

Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth, also one of the 12 Chase contenders, finished 14th. Carl Edwards, the No. 3 driver in the Roush shop, recorded a 19th-place result. Edwards, who failed to qualify for the Chase, was the final driver on the 300th and final lap. The three teams submitted mediocre performances on what could be considered their home track.

All three Roush Fenway cars were sluggish on Friday. They didn’t get better in practice on Saturday. Sunday’s results proved across the board that no improvement took place. When crew chiefs Matt Fuccia (No. 16), Jimmy Fennig (No. 17), and Chad Norris (No. 99) debrief with owner Jack Roush, they will have to find some answers if the drivers don’t want to share the Red Sox’s irrelevance.

“It was just frustrating,” said Edwards. “That’s as fast as our car will go. We’ve got some work to do and we all know it. So we’re just going to go back and work really hard. I think the balance was as good as the guys could get it. I think Chad and those guys did a good job with it. But there’s just something missing from our whole setup. That’s what we’ve got to work on.”

Sunday was a day for Toyota (winner Denny Hamlin) and Chevrolet (Johnson and Jeff Gordon, in second and third). In comparison, the Fords never had enough juice to run with the field’s strongest vehicles.

After the race, Kenseth delivered a matter-of-fact assessment of the No. 17 team’s performance. The over-the-wall boys executed crisp pit stops, whether they swapped out two or four tires. Kenseth had no issues with Fennig’s race strategy.

But the bottom line was that the car was never any good.

“On the long runs, we had about a 10th-place car, which is probably a little bit better than we do here,” Kenseth said. “On short runs, we weren’t very good at all.”

The No. 17 wasn’t strong all weekend. Kenseth turned only the 25th-fastest lap in qualifying on Friday. Kenseth led only one lap on Sunday, and that took place under caution.

Kenseth’s one field-leading spin around NHMS, however, was one more than Biffle recorded. The No. 16 Fusion, which started the race in 13th position, never even took a sniff of Hamlin’s exhaust fumes. The highest Biffle could manage was around 10th place halfway through the show. The No. 16 didn’t stay there for very long.

“We chattered the front tires. We chattered the rear tires,” Biffle said. “There at the end, we chattered all four. So it was just back and forth with all four tires chattering and no grip at all.”

Kenseth started Sunday in 11th place in the standings, 26 points behind Keselowski. Kenseth remains in 11th place, but he’s now 35 points in back of Johnson. Kenseth, who will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, does not project to make his final races in Roush’s employment memorable events.

“That’s where we were when we started,” Kenseth said of his No. 11 position. “Everybody wants to be leading. Last week was last week. This week, we got everything we could out of our car. It wasn’t much better than that.”

Two of the teams take momentum into Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Johnson, the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut, sits atop the standings heading into one of his best tracks. Three of Sunday’s top-five drivers collect Hendrick paychecks (Kasey Kahne finished fifth). Hamlin, the lead dog in the Gibbs garage, is in third place, just six points behind Johnson.

Roush Fenway has some work to do.

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