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Trevor Bayne’s Game of Dominoes

Trevor Bayne’s Game of Dominoes

by May 27, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Roush-Fenway Racing’s 2015 Sprint Cup driver lineup became more clear this weekend after an announcement that was made at the Charlotte Motor Speedway – and Greg Biffle nor Carl Edwards were involved with it.

After running for RFR’s Nationwide Series program full-time since 2011 (other than times he was sidelined by illness), Trevor Bayne announced that he would move over from his part-time Sprint Cup ride with Wood Brothers Racing to pilot the No. 6 Advocare Ford Fusion for RFR full-time in 2015.

While Bayne’s promotion provided a partial answer as to what Roush-Fenway’s Sprint Cup plans are for next year, several questions were also raised by his announcement as well. Does the return of the No. 6 car mean anything regarding Biffle and Edwards? What does this mean for Roush-Fenway’s Nationwide Series organization? Who will move over to race the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford?

Does the return of the No. 6 car mean anything for Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards’ 2015 status with the team?

The last we heard of Biffle’s 2015 plans, he remained adamant that he had no desire to leave the organization he has driven for since he raced in the Camping World Truck Series in 1998. When asked at Darlington if he had any desire to leave Roush-Fenway, Biffle delivered a short-and-simple statement to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“No, not a bit. Absolutely, 100-percent ‘no.'” See? Short and simple.

Edwards’ future at the team, however, is hidden behind a larger cloud of uncertainty. During FOX’s pre-race coverage of the 5-Hour Energy 400 in Kansas, Darrell Waltrip point-blank asked the driver of the No. 99 car as to if he could win a championship with his current team. Edwards’ response to the question sent waves of speculation across the NASCAR news world as to whether or not he would re-up his contract with Roush-Fenway in 2015.

“There’s not a better year than this year with Jimmy Fennig [Edwards’ crew chief], the Chase format and finishing Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead,” he said. “So yes. I know we can and we have to do it this year. We’ve just got to keep digging. We have to do it this year.”

The inclusion of the word ‘this’ in Edwards’ answer may provide some clues on his future with the organization and could possibly indicate that his commitment to Roush-Fenway may not be as solid as his teammate Biffle’s currently is. If the No. 99 team is unable to score their first championship, could Edwards perhaps jump ship to Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing? Perhaps. Of course, everybody – including myself – could be making a mountain out of a molehill here.

Bringing this topic back towards Bayne – with his promotion to the Cup Series, does this mean that either of the contract year drivers are out of a job?

The answer? Not necessarily.

Roush-Fenway Racing have picked up Advocare as a sponsor for all 36 races for Bayne and with sponsorship secure on the No. 6 car for 2015, there will be no races run with a Roush sponsorship as was the case on Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s No. 17 car last year. Yes, there still will be plenty of expenses that will come with the running of a fourth full-time team, however, if both Biffle and Edwards stay on with the organization should have full sponsorship for next year from the various sponsors on the No. 16 and No. 99 teams.

From my point of view, the only way that Roush-Fenway runs three teams for 2015 is if Biffle or Edwards leaves – a scenario that could very well come true with Edwards. RFR have no reason to want to push Edwards away as he is one of the biggest sponsorship draws of the series and a very consistent driver. If the driver of the No. 99 is to leave the team then it would be on his own accord and not a decision made by an outside force.

What does Bayne’s signing mean for the future of Roush-Fenway’s Nationwide Series effort?

With the absence of Bayne from the Nationwide Series, Roush-Fenway Racing will lose their ‘leader’ of their farm system – pushing rookies Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher to become the faces of the next generation of the organization.

Bayne had become a seasoned face in the Roush-Fenway organization after first racing for them in the Nationwide Series in late-2010 and is currently the only non-rookie to drive a car for the team in the second-tier series. Being the only NNS veteran (which feels strange to write considering he’s 23-years-old) on the team, Bayne’s absence leaves Reed and Buescher without a leader for the 2015 campaign.

The presence of a veteran on the team should be viewed as a necessity to help Reed and Buescher’s development as drivers. Both Bayne and Stenhouse Jr. would have the presence of Edwards, Matt Kenseth, and Paul Menard as veterans on their team in various races in 2009 and 2010 – by 2011, Stenhouse had developed enough as a driver to earn his first of two Nationwide Series championships with Roush-Fenway Racing

If Bayne, Stenhouse, and Biffle or Edwards are to refrain from racing in the Nationwide Series in 2015 to focus on their Sprint Cup seasons, Roush-Fenway Racing should take a look at what teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, and Richard Childress Racing have done in recent years – hiring a veteran driver.

Sam Hornish Jr., current part-time driver for Gibbs’ No. 54 entry, might not be willing to sit around for another year to race part-time and may jump at the opportunity to race full-time should it be presented by Roush-Fenway. Hornish certainly has the ability to win races and to contend for Nationwide Series championships, after all, he came three points shy of taking last year’s championship.

Both drivers for Front Row Motorsports, David Ragan and David Gilliand, are both in contract years themselves in the Sprint Cup Series. While both drivers would likely not be too pleased with a step down to the Nationwide Series, if it came to it – both would find a very quick ride with a Roush-Fenway team that is very capable of winning a championship. For Ragan, he’d be surrounded by some familiar faces as he raced for Roush-Fenway from 2006 to 2011 in all three national touring series.

If RFR decide to downsize their Nationwide Series program to two cars, an alternative would be to look for a driving mentor. Seeking out a veteran like Dale Jarrett or Ricky Craven (current ESPN analysts) would help Reed and Buescher further their talents all the while saving RFR money by not running another race team.

Who will take over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing entry?

All that has come out of the Wood Brothers camp since Bayne’s announcement is the fact that they are indeed in the process of searching for a driver for 2015.

It is assumed that the Wood Brothers will continue to run their single-car team part-time for 2015 with Motorcraft continuing to sponsor their car. In recent history, the No. 21 car has been primarily piloted by drivers who were then new to the Sprint Cup Series – Stenhouse Jr., Gilliland, Marcos Ambrose, Jon Wood, and Elliott Sadler all took their turns alongside Bayne in driving the fabled No. 21.

I view the safe bets for the No. 21 seat to be the three drivers I mentioned earlier in this column, Hornish, Ragan, and Gilliland. Of course, Ragan and Gilliland could very well resign with their full-time Front Row Motorsports rides but if Hornish is unable to locate a full-time Nationwide Series ride he could make a leap back to the Sprint Cup Series with a winning race team.

Another name I could see getting the opportunity to race for the Wood Brothers is Parker Kligerman. Like Bayne was able to do in late-2010 and in the 2011 Daytona 500, Kligerman was able to turn in strong performances in part-time equipment for Swan Racing late last season. Kligerman has shown some great potential behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car but was unable to showcase much of it this year after his No. 30 Swan Racing team closed shop after Darlington. If Bayne is to hop over to the No. 6 sometime later this year, Kligerman would be a great mid-to-late-season replacement as he is not currently under contract with any race team while Ragan, Gilliland, and Hornish are.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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