DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There's a new favorite at Daytona International Speedway, and it's not Hendrick Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing.
Roush Fenway Racing has become the team to beat at restrictor-plate tracks, with drivers Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth enjoying the turnaround as they prepare for Saturday night's 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Daytona.
Jack Roush's team won the last two Cup races at Daytona and has 17 top-five finishes at the famed superspeedway since July 2008. That's an impressive stretch for an organization whose drivers remember coming to Daytona as mostly also-rans not too long ago.
"When we talked about restrictor-plate races five or six years ago, we'd come in after practice and say, 'Man, this car is slow,' and then say, 'It'll draft fine. Once the race starts, none of that matters,'" Edwards said. "I guess we didn't really take it seriously to the extent that maybe some of the other teams did. We didn't really, really focus on these races and it seems like there's been a very active effort to go out and be better at these tracks."
Strong results followed.
David Ragan notched his first Cup victory last July at Daytona, with teammate Kenseth finishing second. Edwards and Biffle swept the front row for in Daytona 500 qualifying in February, and Kenseth capped Roush's resurgence with his second victory in the "Great American Race." Biffle finished third and Edwards was eighth.
They were nearly as good at Talladega, where Kenseth finished fourth and Biffle fifth.
Kenseth kept things rolling Friday by winning the pole for Saturday's race. Biffle will start fourth after Tony Stewart's second-place qualifying effort was disallowed because his car failed a post-qualifying inspection. Edwards qualified 12th.
It's a welcome change for the Roush drivers.
"We used to come here and we'd be slotted between 15th and 30th all the time," Biffle said. "That was a little frustrating because we were a good company, we had fast cars everywhere and then we'd come here and we'd struggle a little bit. We're found some speed secrets. I don't think we have the best cars, but we're certainly right at the top, on a pretty level playing field, with ... all those (top plate-racing) guys."
Roush needed 13 seasons at the Cup level to win its first plate race — Jeff Burton won the July race at Daytona in 2000 — and had to wait two decades to claim its first Daytona 500 with Kenseth in 2009. In the six Cup races at Daytona since, Roush drivers have had a dozen top-10s.
Edwards has five of those. Kenseth has four, and Biffle two.
Kenseth credited Doug Yates, saying the well-respected engine builder has been the difference-maker in a series that maintains strict standards on car chassis.
"A decade ago was a lot different with the rules on the cars," said Kenseth, who announced last week that he is leaving Roush at the end of the season. "I think the cars are just incredibly close to being the same at these plate races. Horsepower and aerodynamic drag are the two things that make your cars go fast or slow when you come to Daytona and Talladega. And Doug Yates does a great job with all that stuff."
Biffle, though, pointed to Jack Roush committing more resources to engineering and simulation programs.
"With the added engineering and simulation for all the other tracks, it spilled over into restrictor-plate racing, which ultimately made us better," Biffle said. "Some of the other teams focused on it a bit more than we did and it showed."
Added Edwards: "I think that we've turned the corner at these tracks and I think it's really good."