Monday, April 12, 2010

Roush Rewind: Subway Fresh Fit 600

After all four Roush Fenway Racing drivers had decent runs at Martinsville, they came to Phoenix International Raceway in hopes they could build on the success from the week before. However, two of the Roush drivers finished solidly inside the top-ten, while the other two struggled and never came close to joining their teammates in the top-ten.

Greg Biffle qualified 30th in the No. 16 3M Ford on Friday. Biffle slowly worked his way through the field, and when the first caution came out on lap 15, he had worked his way up to 26th. The No. 16 was lacking grip so Biffle pitted and the 3M Pit Bulls tried to make the adjustments needed, which included a track bar adjustment. After that stop, he restarted 24th, and during the following long green-flag run, Biffle’s complaints about his car only increased. The car was still lacking grip, and Biffle said the car wouldn’t turn. Crew chief Greg Erwin called for drastic changes during the next pit stop. Biffle’s crew made wedge and spring rubber adjustments. Biffle was 24th after that pit stop. As the race wore on, it seemed that the changes to Biffle’s car were no help. He ran between 20th and 25th afterward. The No. 16 Ford proved to be a tough machine for Biffle to handle. Even after other numerous adjustments were made by the crew, which included four more wedge adjustments, Biffle’s racecar was never to his liking. He was running 24th when the final caution flag of the day came out with three laps remaining. Erwin thought about making Biffle stay out to try and gain track position, but after a quick discussion with Biffle, it was decided they would pit for four tires. Biffle restarted 20th for the green-white-checkered attempt but dropped back two positions to finish 22nd when the checkered flag waved. The 22nd place finish bumped Biffle back to 3rd in the standings.

David Ragan, as well as the entire UPS team, were looking forward to the first night race of the season and hoped to turn this season full of misfortune around. Despite all their hard work, it seemed that once again, the team wouldn’t quite turn the season around just yet. Ragan struggled in practice on Friday, and it carried over into qualifying when he qualified 37th in the No. 6 UPS Ford. When the first caution of the day came out on lap 15, Ragan informed crew chief Donnie Wingo that the No. 6 UPS Ford was tight through the center and that it had no forward bite. Ragan pitted under that first caution for four tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. Once the green flag waved again, Ragan said the changes did nothing to improve the handling of his car, but the changes didn’t hurt either. The ill-handling car prevented Ragan from gaining too many positions, and while running 25th on lap 129, Ragan was lapped by the race leader. Ragan made a green-flag pit stop around lap 130 and had to battle his way into position to get the free pass for when the caution came out again. On lap 135, the caution Ragan needed came out, allowing him to get back on the lead lap. Ragan continued to fight with his racecar’s handling. His crew tried everything from track bar adjustments to air pressure adjustments to help Ragan out, but nothing they did seemed to work. Ragan pitted under the last caution of the day, and the intention had been to take only 2 tires, but as Ragan was heading for his pit stall, Jeff Gordon was leaving his. Ragan had to slow up for Gordon, and the team decided to go ahead and take four tires. All in all, it was a hard-fought race for Ragan, who was 19th to take the checkered flag. He dropped one position in the point standings, back to 28th.

Carl Edwards started the race in the 9th position, driving the No. 99 Subway Ford. In the early going, Edwards’ racecar was tight in the center, but after a few laps the car began to get loose off the corners. Edwards pitted under the first caution, and his crew had an excellent 13 second stop. Even with a flawless stop, Edwards restarted 17th due to some drivers taking only two tires when he took four. By lap 86, Edwards had worked his way back inside the top ten. Edwards pitted under the long green flag run around lap 130, and when the caution came out a few laps later, he stayed out. He hung around 10th place until a pit stop under caution on lap 189 moved him up to the 6th position for the restart. Edwards ran as high as 5th, but soon dropped back to 9th after reporting his car lacked overall grip and that it was still loose off the turns, especially turns three and four. He quickly settled into the 10th position for much of the waning laps of the race. When the caution came out with three laps remaining, every crew chief was faced with the decision of having their driver pit or stay out for track position, and the No. 99 crew chief Bob Osborne was no exception. Osborne opted for a two-tire stop, but after a brief discussion with Edwards, it was decided that a four-tire stop would be the better choice. They both felt there could be another caution and figured that having four-tires would be a better strategy. Edwards restarted 11th for the green-white-checkered attempt. While the caution never waved again, Edwards gained four positions before the checkered flag flew to finish 7th. The top-ten finish moved Edwards up to 8th in the standings.

After a disappointing qualifying effort left him starting 27th on Saturday, Matt Kenseth and his team would use pit strategy to their favor to get the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford inside the top ten for the race. Kenseth gained two positions in the first couple laps, but his racecar was loose and lacking grip. He pitted under the caution that came out on lap 15, and crew chief Todd Parrott opted for a two-tire stop to gain valuable track position. Parrott’s decision led to Kenseth restarting 5th afterward. Kenseth tried to maintain his position but eventually dropped back to 12th due to the rest of the field having taken four fresh tires on that first stop. A caution on lap 56 gave Kenseth the chance to pit for fresh tires, fuel, and wedge and track bar adjustments in an attempt to improve the car’s grip. By lap 120, Kenseth had worked his way up to 3rd. Kenseth made a green-flag stop around lap 130, and his crew quickly went to work putting four fresh tires on the car, filling it with fuel, and making another air pressure adjustment to improve the grip. Kenseth soon found himself fighting a loose-handling car by lap 207. He needed grip in turn two, which had been a turn where he was able to challenge for positions before. Caution came out on lap 257, which allowed Kenseth’s crew to make track bar and air pressure adjustments during a four-tire stop. Kenseth restarted 5th, but his car continued to get looser as the green-flag run wore on. When the final caution of the day came out, Parrott called for a two-tire stop, which moved Kenseth from 8th to 4th for the restart. Kenseth lost two positions during the last two laps and was 6th to cross the line when the checkered flag waved. The solid finish moved him up to 2nd in the standings.

All in all, it was a frustrating race for two of the Roush drivers, while the other two finished solidly inside the top-ten. Even with pit strategies, car adjustments, and the drivers’ own talent, Roush Fenway Racing still didn’t get the win on Saturday. It was Ryan Newman who took the checkered flag in a spectacular finish. Congratulations to Ryan Newman and the No. 39 team!

Next Up: Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

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