MIS notebook: Livonia's Roush buoyed by NASCAR start

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, Mich. — NASCAR Monster Energy Cup owner Jack Roush is encouraged by his team’s start to the 2017 season and encouraged with the future competing with Ford power.

Roush, 75, wasn’t nearly as happy a year ago when his team’s struggles hit rock bottom, missing The Playoffs for the second straight year.

Roush, a Livonia businessman, has more Monster Energy Cup wins (13) at MIS than any other owner, the last coming in June 2013 by Greg Biffle. Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004) won series championships for him with Carl Edwards finishing runner-up in 2011.

At least one Roush driver will be competing in The Chase this year since Ricky Stenhouse earned his first career victory at Talladega last month.

Stenhouse, 29, is now in his sixth season with Roush who always believed he would reach Victory Lane if given the right equipment. The win at Talladega came in his 158th career start. He entered the day 15th in points with five top-10 finishes, including three top-five spots compared to just one top-five at this point last year. Teammate Trevor Bayne sat 18th with a pair of top-10 finishes.

“We’re way ahead of where we were in top-10 finishes a year ago, got the win with Ricky at Talladega, we’ve got good superspeedway cars and we got good short track cars but are a little behind on our mile-and-half and two-mile cars and hopefully they (crew members) made good judgements last night for the plan to put in the car for the race today and we can be on the attack,” said Roush prior to the race.

“MIS has been our most prolific race track. We’ve won more here as a team than any place. We’ve won 13 times. We’re more competitive with it (new lower downforce rules) than we were with the higher downforce.”

Stenhouse, who started 21st in the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, finished eighth Sunday in an up and down afternoon. He cracked the top 10 with 60 laps remaining on the two-mile superspeedway, but was caught for speeding on pit road with 50 laps left, which sent him back to 30th before making his way back into the top 10.

Roush was obviously thrilled with Stenhouse’s win at Talladega, especially since it was the team’s first victory since Carl Edwards won at Sonoma in August 2014. Edwards also was Roush’s last driver in The Playoffs before moving on to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015 before retiring after last season.

“It’s important for me, it’s important for the team, it’s important for the sponsors, and I know Ricky had been so long on waiting to win his first race and get himself going in the right direction,” said Roush on Stenhouse. “There had been times I’m sure where he didn’t have confidence in the cars and maybe in what we’re doing team-wise to support him, but he’s more psyched up now than he’s ever been and we’re just moving forward as fast as we can.

“It certainly put a bump in the step of everybody on that team and it’s demonstrated that our engines are good, which we knew because we’re building engines for other Ford teams. Our engines are good and the Ford support is better than that for any other manufacturer I’ve seen.

“Ford has got more tools in their toolbox to support the teams than they’ve ever had in my 50 years and I believe that they have better simulations and simulators and technical support than the other manufacturers have right now.”

Roush said he still has more than 200 employees for the two-car team. Roush had three-car teams in past years, but Biffle is no longer running. Bayne finished 17th.

Jones has eventful day

Rookie Erik Jones, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday, made his first Monster Energy Cup start at MIS and had a roller-coaster day before finishing 13th.

Jones, who graduated from Swartz Creek near Flint, finished third last week at Pocono. He started 14th Sunday but slipped back near the back of the field when he had a loose wheel and had to pit, losing valuable positions.

Jones was running in the top 10 late in the race before settling on 13th.

“It was just a long day overall,” said Jones, who competes in the No. 77 Toyota. “We were fighting just being free and as the day went on we never really fixed that issue and that loose wheel early kind of got us pinned in a strategy we didn’t want to be in.

“I think the bottom was tough and I think we restarted every one down there except one so we had a lot of tough restarts and it’s just tough to get going. Guys can pin you down, get you free and really hard to get some good momentum off of (Turn) 2 and you get kind of freight trained by the top.”

And, it was an emotional day for Jones whose father died last June, just days before the race at MIS.

“Yeah, definitely thought about it a few times,” Jones said. “I tried to kind of not think about it too much, but definitely comes into your heard and you think about it and it was really just over a  year ago that he passed away. Hope he was watching down. Hope he was proud and had fun watching.”

Dale Jr's final run at MIS

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is taking his final tour this season at MIS.

Dale Jr. announced he was retiring earlier this year. He has two victories at MIS — June 2008 and June 2012 — but his last win came at Phoenix in November 2015, the same year he won the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt finished ninth after running third with less than 50 laps left. It was his 15th top-10 finish in 35 starts at MIS.

"We had a great car," Earnhardt said. "We just had a hard time getting any track position and keeping it. Greg (crew chief Ives) did a good job trying to get us that track position on one stop. We just got real loose on that run, about wrecked the car a couple of times and lost a lot of spots."