Roush Fenway Racing's decline from NASCAR powerhouse to a team that rarely flexes its muscles in crunch time is no mere twist of fate. That's what owner Jack Roush thinks about a change in fortunes that began with the 2009 season, when NASCAR's ban of testing on Sprint Cup tracks began.
"NASCAR [again] has a no-testing policy this year at the race tracks that has put a great premium on the software that is used to do the predictors and simulation," Roush said. "The data analysis part is extremely important right now."
Indeed, computer simulations are in vogue to determine where chassis settings should start race weekend, and Roush admits his organization hasn't done as good a job as the competition.
"We have third-party vendors that are engaged in our data analysis and simulations and, quite frankly, we haven't gotten the results this year that we expected.
"Certainly, the results aren't as good from a simulation and data analysis point of view as it was in 2008. Combine that with the fact that we don't have testing and it has been a handicap. Where the rubber meets the road is what happens race day. This year, we have arrived at the race track with simulated strategies and set-ups that are not as good as our competitors."
Roush Fenway's four drivers -- Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and David Ragan -- are winless going into Sunday's 15th race of the season at Michigan International Speedway. They're Ford's flagship operation, expected to deliver wins and championships. If Roush Fenway doesn't have the ability to get to Victory Lane, the other Ford teams -- notably Richard Petty Motorsports and part-timer the Woods Brothers -- probably can't either. Roush Fenway builds their cars and they all have engines from Roush-Yates. They share information, too. And, like Roush Fenway, they're winless. Ford is the only manufacturer without a win in Cup this season.
"The thing that we need, that the guys are being patient for, is for us to get our simulations to the point where we can arrive at the race track with our set-ups close," Roush said. "They have not been yet due to a lack of testing and the uncompetitiveness of our testing. We think we see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Roush believes his team could get back to its '08 level -- when Edwards won nine races and finished second, 69 points behind Jimmie Johnson and Biffle won twice and was third in the points -- with testing at Cup tracks.
"I have talked to NASCAR about letting some of the testing come back," Roush said. "Right now, if you don't have a simulation as good as the next man's simulation, it does not matter how good your driver, crew chief or engine is, you won't get around the race track. Until you sort out what you need at that track, you are playing from a point of disadvantage.
"I think we should have less reliance on simulations, and we would do that if we were able to go test on the tire and the race track and in close proximity of the race. I would propose something between eight and 10 vouchers to test per team. If a team had those vouchers, it would gave you a chance to test on all the different types of tracks ... it would give you a chance to test all those with every driver in every car, so that every crew chief would have an idea of what he needed and not just rely on the simulation."
NASCAR, with its cautious approach to making changes, isn't likely to start allowing testing at midseason. Which leaves Roush really lobbying for next season and knowing he has to keep working on simulations.
"We have been looking at additional third-party vendors and taking more things inside to look at ourselves," Roush said. "The Petty organization is looking to Roush Fenway and doing some things on their own. We are trying to fill that void that wasn't expected.
"The teams aren't getting it done. Ford's support is as good as it's ever been. The monetary support has been equal to prior years. The technical support has improved and a greater commitment was made over the winter to support the team than has been in the past."
If they can find some speed in race conditions, Roush Fenway's season still has promise.
Kenseth has rebounded from his first non-Chase season in '09 and is fourth in the points with four top-fives and eight top-10s. The '03 Sprint Cup champion is in a strong position to make the Chase with 12 races in the regular season remaining.
Edwards, ninth in points, and Biffle, 10th, are less certain. Edwards is only 44 points in front of 13th-place Tony Stewart and 61 in front of Ryan Newman, both of whom made the Chase a year ago and have Hendrick Motorsports equipment and information. Mark Martin, 11th in points, and Clint Bowyer, 12th, are part of the fight for the final four positions, too.
Kenseth has made 39 starts, Edwards 50 and Biffle 58 since their last Cup victories. Each of them have two at Michigan, where Roush has 11 as a car owner. Roush's team is based in Concord, N.C., but his Roush Industries is in nearby Livonia and with long-time partner Ford in Dearborn, Michigan is Roush's home race.
"All of our wins at MIS have been special," Roush said.
A Roush Fenway victory Sunday might be the most important of them all at Michigan. It would represent a breakthrough, notice that the team is ready to compete again with Hendrick, Gibbs and Childress at Cup's highest level.