NASCAR Cup Series Preview 2021: Roush Fenway Racing

RFR is seeking redemption after a brutal 2020 NASCAR season, as both Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman fell out of the top 20.

2021 Roush Fenway Racing Driver Chart
Driver Car No. Crew Chief Primary Sponsor(s)
Ryan Newman 6 Scott Graves Kohler Generators/Guaranteed Rate/Castrol
Chris Buescher 17 Luke Lambert Fastenal/Fifth Third Bank/Castrol

History

The team was originally founded by auto entrepreneur Jack Roush in 1988, enjoying instant success with future Hall of Famer Mark Martin behind the wheel of its long-standing No. 6 Ford. His organization expanded to a multi-car organization by 1992, with several renowned drivers passing through his facility, including Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards. After Martin finished in the runner-up on four occasions (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002), the team won consecutive Cup Series titles with Kenseth (2003) and Busch (2004). The latter for Busch, coming in the No. 97 Ford, was the first held under the NASCAR playoff system.

In 2007, the Fenway Sports Group, headed by Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry, purchased a 50 percent stake in the team to operate it alongside Roush. The team has been a two-car operation since 2017, with Newman taking over the No. 6 in 2019 and Buescher arriving in the No. 17 (previously piloted by Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) a year later.



2020 in Review

Triumph nearly became tragedy at the Daytona 500. Newman, having previously won the event in 2008, was leading on the final lap, but inadvertent contact from runner-up Ryan Blaney launched him into an airborne wreck, one exacerbated when Corey LaJoie drove into the wreckage head-on. After several tense minutes, Newman was removed from the car was airlifted to the hospital, having sustained injuries described as serious, but he miraculously emerged from the clinic two days later with his daughters Brooklyn and Ashlyn by his side.

Newman vacated the car while he recovered, giving way to Ross Chastain. Thanks to the coronavirus-induced pause, he only missed three races, but he struggled upon his re-entry, earning only one top ten upon his return (a sixth at Talladega). His two top tens were the lowest tally of his full-time career.

As for Buescher, he took over the No. 17 from Stenhouse and got off to a good start with a third-place posting at Daytona. But the 2015 Xfinity Series champion failed to maintain that speed, earning only one other top-five posting (a fifth at the Daytona road course in August).

Meet the Drivers

Ryan Newman

Experience: 20th full season
Career Cup Victories: 18 (Last: spring Phoenix, 2017)
2020 finish: 25th
Best standings finish: 2nd (2014)

Set to enter his second decade of full-time Cup racing, Newman is a relic from the turn of the century as one of three full-time races that partook in “Winston” Cup racing (Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick are the others). Ever since he beat out Jimmie Johnson for the Rookie of the Year award, few drivers have been as tenacious and hungry to win as Newman. Even when things were dire last season, Newman kept his drive…literally and figuratively, as he remained one of the hardest drivers to pass.

It’s clear that RFR isn’t the powerhouse it used to be, but Newman has made the most of the equipment before. He reached the playoffs, without a win, as recently as 2019, the first Roush Ford to make it there since Stenhouse won two races a couple of years prior.

Chris Buescher 

Experience: 6th full season
Career Cup Victories: 1 (summer Pocono, 2016)
2020 finish: 21st
Best standings finish: 16th (2016)

There’s no doubt that Buescher can compete at the NASCAR level. He took the underfunded Front Row Motorsports to the NASCAR playoffs in his first full season by virtue of leading at the time of inclement weather and owns championships at both the Xfinity and ARCA levels. Prior to his Roush endeavors, he drove another underfunded car, the No. 37 at JTG Daugherty, to a top 20 finish in the standings. But he struggled to find his footing last season, despite earning a career-best eight top tens. After consecutive top-tens at Bristol and Las Vegas during the playoffs, Buescher finished no better than 20th over the final six races. He should nonetheless be a threat to win at Daytona, where he has earned all but two of his six top fives at the Cup level.

Outlook

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Newman or Buescher to steal a win and the playoff spot that comes with it in 2021. Nothing more needs to be said about Newman’s tough luck at the end of Daytona and Buescher has been at or near the front toward the end of several events at both Daytona and Talladega. But a more realistic goal for this couple should probably be getting back into the top 20 of the standings.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags