Roush Fenway Racing was one of the most power-packed and competitive teams in NASCAR’s premier series for a long time, fielding cars for some of the stock car racing’s best drivers: Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin, just to name a few. However, as of recent years, it has seemed that Roush has been having to build back after losing all of their most talented drivers between 2012 and 2016.
In the last six seasons, Roush has only captured two wins, both of which came at super speedways in 2017 with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (who no longer drives for Roush Fenway Racing). Outside of the Daytona and Talladega venues, the once glorious team has struggled to find speed. However, with the experience of veteran driver Ryan Newman and the young, bold Chris Buescher, 2021 could be the organization’s best year since 2017.
Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford Mustang
2020: 33 starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles, 35 laps led, 25th in points
Career: 689 starts, 18 wins, 115 top-fives, 263 top-10s, 51 poles
The perfect start to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season was less than 300 yards away for Ryan Newman before a violent wreck sent him to the hospital following the season-opening Daytona 500 and sidelined him for the remaining three races before the world paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When NASCAR returned after a seven-week pause, Newman also did. Despite being as stubborn behind the wheel as always, he posted his worst numbers in his career. No wins, no top-five finishes, no poles, no playoffs. Two top-10 finishes are all that Newman carries into 2021 to build momentum off of.
The driver once called “Rocket Man” hasn’t slowed down all the way though. 2020 was an off season for Newman, to say the least, but Newman can still win. His best chances in 2021 would be at Daytona and Talladega, where he’s been in contention to win multiple times since he joined Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. Outside of those two tracks, don’t expect the no. 6 team to be a front-runner. They’ll have their good weeks, just like any team, but with the speed that other teams are bringing into 2021, Newman won’t be a driver looking at potential wins on raw speed alone. He’s going to have to outsmart other drivers and, in true Ryan Newman fashion, be the hardest driver to pass, whether it’s for first or 31st.
If Newman can get back to performing in a consistent manner as he’s done so many times before, there is a possibility he becomes part of the playoff picture, but even if he makes it, they still don’t have the equipment to go up against the top teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing to advance out of the round of 12 at best.
It should also be noted that 2021 may be a contract year for Ryan Newman. When he signed with Roush Fenway Racing for the 2019 season, the length of his multi-year contract was never disclosed. Three seasons seems like a reasonable contract length given previous contract lengths, as well as other factors such as his age. When the 2021 season starts, Newman will be 43 years old. He’s been in a lot of horrible crashes in his time in NASCAR, probably more than what’s normal for a driver. With the near-death experience Newman had last year at Daytona and his overall lack of competitiveness, he may not feel inclined to continue his career as a driver if this is truly a contract year.
The writer’s prediction: Newman won’t win in 2021, but he will return to his ways of being consistent. It won’t be enough to make the playoffs, and after the completion of the 2021 season, Newman will hang up the helmet and firesuit to spend more time with his family.
Chris Buescher, No. 17 Ford Mustang
2020: 36 starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles, 33 laps led, 21st in points
Career: 186 starts, 1 win, 6 top-fives, 20 top-10s, 0 poles
Chris Buescher won an Xfinity Series championship with Roush Fenway Racing in 2015 before beginning his Cup Series career in 2016 with Front Row Motorsports. Late in the 2019 season, it was announced that Buescher would move back to Roush for the 2020 season, taking over the no. 17 that Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had driven since 2013.
In his first Cup season behind the wheel of a Roush-powered Mustang, Buescher posted 2 top-five finishes, including a third-place finish in the Daytona 500. Buescher never made many big waves of commotion after Daytona, as he silently posted seven more top-10 finishes throughout the year. It’s also worth noting that Buescher, while not being the most competitive, was able to keep his racing clean in 2020, as he only posted three DNFs (did-not-finish).
In his time in the NASCAR Cup Series, Buescher hasn’t been in a ride that’s capable of winning week in and week out. He stole a win on a foggy day at Pocono in 2016, but thus far, it appears the win was just a fluke. Despite being young, Buescher is running out of time to prove that he is a driver who deserves to be in a better ride in years to come, but with a truckload of talent coming up from the Xfinity Series, Buescher may be overlooked for spots with more competitive teams once his contract with Roush concludes.
The writer’s prediction: While I fully believe Chris Buescher has the potential to be the driver that helps bring Roush Fenway Racing back to a more competitive nature, the organization just can’t seem to provide the cars Buescher needs to do so. Buescher will have another winless season and won’t make the playoffs, but he will improve on his 21st-place points ranking that he scored in 2020.