DAYTONA BEACH — If you expected much more from Roush Fenway Racing than you saw in 2009, well, you weren't the only one.
"We came in with the same expectation a lot of you guys had. We thought we were going to win 10 races, win a championship, and it'd be great," driver Carl Edwards said last week. "Then we didn't."
Roush Fenway came into last season with momentum, as Edwards and Greg Biffle finished second and third behind Jimmie Johnson in the 2008 Chase for the Championship standings. Matt Kenseth made the Chase, giving the team three cars in the sport's elite.
But in 2009, as Edwards so succinctly put it, they didn't. Edwards, who had won a series-best nine races in 2008, failed to win a race, and his top-five finishes dropped from 19 to seven. Biffle went winless for the first time since his rookie year in 2002. Kenseth had a great start, winning the season's first two races — at Daytona and California — but didn't win again and came in 14th, his lowest finish since 2000.
Even Jamie McMurray struggled, finishing 22nd, and his win in November at Talladega was his only top-five finish of the year. Pushed out as Roush had to trim from five cars to four, McMurray will race with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing this season.
Edwards, seen as a top challenger to Johnson's four-year dominance on the circuit, is aspiring to win not just the Sprint Cup series but the Nationwide series as well, continuing as the sport's busiest Saturday-Sunday driver. After the pitfalls of last season — he broke his right foot playing Frisbee but raced the final three months despite the injury — he wants to show his signature backflips again.
"Everyone in our team, myself, everyone has to be able to look at ourself and say, 'What can we do to be better?' " Edwards said. "The guys have been working very hard. We have a really great pit crew, and that's going to be huge. Our engineering has been working hard, and hopefully we'll be better there, but we've got to go do it. 2009 is over. It's done. We have to go be champions in 2010."
Ford rolled out its first new engine in 18 years last season and continues to improve on its new "FR9" engineering. In addition to his headliners, co-owner Jack Roush hopes to get more from his fourth car, where David Ragan, 24, dropped from 13th to 27th last season. He won two Nationwide races last year but mustered just two top-10 finishes in 36 Cup races.
"The bottom line is our cars didn't handle as well as they should," Ragan said. "Our engines performed great, our cars were clean and nice, but we couldn't make good adjustments. We had to go to work on our setups. … We've realized what we need to do to work on these cars to make them go faster."
Sunday's Daytona 500 is a potential springboard to Roush Fenway's resurgence.
A year ago, Kenseth opened the season with a win at Daytona, and Ragan finished a season-high sixth. Ragan took fifth in the 500 in 2007, so it's an ideal place to start a turnaround.
"If we can get to a strong start here, it's important, but that California-Vegas-Atlanta stretch is even more important," Ragan said. "That sets the tone for the rest of the year. We knew what we were working on."
Roush won championships with Kenseth in 2003 and with Kurt Busch in 2004, and there's optimism that his four-car lineup can return to its 2008 success.
"We want all four drivers in the Chase, and we want to win the championship. That would be the ultimate goal," Roush said. "Having gone through 2009 and a little disappointment, I think we're wiser and in better position to capitalize on our opportunities this season."
Ragan is optimistic, too.
"On a piece of paper in December and January, we're going to win every race, we're going to sit on every pole, we're going to be the best car here," he said. "All 42 other teams think the same thing. But I'm encouraged by the things we've done. But looking at 2009, we felt the same way in 2009, and it was almost a disaster. The only true test is to get out on the track and see what we have."
|Today||Noon — Sprint Cup practice; 2 p.m. — Sprint Cup practice; 3 — Nationwide practice; 6 — Trucks practice|
|Thursday||9 a.m. — Trucks final practice; 11:30 — Nationwide final practice; 2 p.m. — Sprint Cup Gatorade twin qualifying races (60 laps each); 6:10 — Trucks qualifying|
|Friday||1:40 p.m. — Sprint Cup practice; 3:10 — Nationwide qualifying; 8 — Trucks Nextera Energy Resources 250 (100 laps)|
|Saturday||10:30 a.m. — Sprint Cup final practice; 1:15 p.m. — Nationwide Camping World 300 race (120 laps)|
|Sunday||1 p.m. — Sprint Cup Daytona 500 (200 laps)|