Last season was always going to be a journey forged on unknowns for Trevor Bayne and the rest of Roush Fenway Racing. With Greg Biffle’s departure, it was the first time since 1992 that the team formerly known as Roush Racing did not have a driver with more than four years of full-time Cup Series experience on its active roster. It was also the first time since 1995 that the multi-car outfit would feature just two teams.
But Bayne and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both viewed the 36 races that comprised the 2017 schedule and the thousands of hours in between as a chance to chart their own course to improve the fortunes of the once-mighty Ford team. Bayne’s primary goal in his third full-time Cup season was to smooth out the low points and help his team deliver a more consistent effort, start to finish. Postseason eligibility would be the cherry on top.
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That didn’t happen, even though Bayne started last season in the manner that he wanted — delivering a 16th-place average finish through the first third of the season. But the positive start quickly soured as the No. 6 averaged a 21st-place finish in the final 24 races — even while notching four of his season’s six top-10 finishes down the stretch.
Bayne doesn’t believe all was lost in a season that delivered results much the same as the year prior with the same number of top-5 finishes (two) and just one more top-10 result (six). He committed himself to better handle the mental burden that stems from disappointing results.
“It’s tough because performance defines a lot of what we do and how we value ourselves,” Bayne says. “(Last year) I had to go with a different mentality: ‘Am I doing everything that I can possibly do as a race car driver?’ and ‘Am I leaving my best on the race track every weekend?’ If I am doing that, that’s all I can do. And I think that has helped me a lot mentally.”
Another positive? Bayne says he and Stenhouse have established a common feel for finding speed in their respective cars.
“At the end of the day we can make the same things go fast and have the same things slows us down,” Bayne says. “That’s been good for the team to work forward.”
Bayne’s crew chief Matt Puccia is slated to be back this season, marking his third straight as the voice guiding the No. 6 from the pit box after five seasons with Biffle from 2011-15.
Any success for the team will most likely occur on the non-1.5-mile tracks. Short tracks need to improve, Bayne says, but restrictor-plate tracks offer the most opportunity for a team that has lagged behind its Ford counterparts on downforce-heavy tracks.
“A lot of people don’t put a lot of emphasis into (restrictor-plate tracks) because it’s a lottery sometimes,” Bayne says. “We’ve been able to make our cars faster and drive better.”
He also wants to see improvement before race day.
“Qualifying hindered us the last half of (last) season,” says Bayne, whose lone top-15 start came at Talladega during that stretch. “Track position is so big.”