September 30, 2023

Déja vu for Ford as it seeks Cup series wins

Mark Rushbrook has held this position before, last August, when he said Ford’s results were unacceptable.

Unfortunately for the global director of Ford Performance, it’s the same feeling as the Cup Series on Memorial Day weekend and looking ahead to a busy summer. Ford has one Cup Series win in 13 races so far this season, with Joey Logano at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.

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“It’s certainly been a tough year,” Rushbrook said earlier this week as Ford unveiled a new exhibit in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Ford drivers did not shy away from competing on intermediate tracks, especially against their Chevrolet and Toyota counterparts. Logano already acknowledged the problem at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the third race of the season.

Kevin Harvick said earlier this month that it’s like going to a knife fight without a knife. In his final season, Harvick is a bright spot for Ford in third in the championship due to the gritty consistency known from his number 4 team with six top-10 finishes.

“I think our car has been pretty good for us, but obviously we have a huge deficit,” said Harvick. “The aerodynamics of the car are way off compared to the other two manufacturers. … The bigger the circuit, the harder it is.”

All three manufacturers were given the chance to change the hoods and noses of their cars after learning from the first year of the Next Gen car. Most of the changes came around the vehicle’s cooling elements with the size of the hood vents.

“At this point in the season we want to get more than one win, but we also put in a lot of strong performances: Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, Martinsville,” said Rushbrook. “But at the end of the day you have to close it and go for the win. So we’re not happy about that. But we know we can be competitive on those tracks.

“Where we see opportunities for improvement is in the intermediate stages. That’s where our approach works with the big three teams – if you count Penske, Wood Brothers as one, and Stewart-Haas and RFK, and now Front Row as well.”

The box that Next Gen puts teams and manufacturers in is tight, so Rushbrook recognized that the field is much closer together. In reality, he said the three manufacturers are not that far apart aerodynamically.

“But they are different,” he said. “But the cars in total, because of what Next Gen has done to bring everything together, even those small differences end up in a long green flag run separating the cars. So it’s figuring out the fine-tuning knobs that we have, but it’s also — we talked about the front of the car and the aerodynamics — there’s more to it.

Logano’s win in Atlanta is a highlight in Ford’s otherwise difficult season. Rusty Jarrett/Motorsport

“The chassis is very sensitive in its adjustment, so the ride height is very important. That has nothing to do with the front itself. But where do you get the car for the ride heights and travel? That’s where we see a lot of opportunities for us to make improvements. It’s not in the front of the car, it’s in the car itself.”

And that’s where Rushbrook’s deja vu comes in. Last August, Rushbrook expressed the same concerns as Ford sat on four wins. But things changed after those comments and Ford won the series championship with Joey Logano.

The good news is that what Ford needs to do during the season can be done to help its teams improve over time.

“Absolutely,” Rushbrook said. “We have the right people within Ford and we have the right teams and the right engine partner. We know how to do it. We did it last year. We’ve done it before. We have to keep working.”

There are three Ford drivers in the top 10 of the championship. Harvick is third, Ryan Blaney seventh and Brad Keselowski eighth. Rushbrook praised the work RFK Racing is doing to clear where they need to be and the confidence the organization is building.

Of the 14 Ford drivers in the Cup Series, only four have completed more than 100 laps to date. In total, Ford drivers have led a combined 856 laps.

Logano’s lone win is the blemish on the Ford record, and there’s more work to be done, as everyone admits. But Rushbrook also sees a lot of good in the manufacturer.

“What we saw in Daytona to start the season was there were a lot of strong Fords there,” he said. “If that accident had turned out a little bit differently — a little bit earlier or later, the yellow was thrown a little bit earlier or later — we would have walked away with a Daytona 500 win. Doug [Yates] loves superspeedways and the engine pack, and he always brings great engines to the superspeedways and aero pack and teamwork. So that was hard to leave Daytona. I don’t know if it’s harder when you perform so well and don’t win.

“Two or three weeks later in Phoenix the Hendrick cars looked strong early on but in the long run, especially the Stewart-Haas cars and Kevin, he had a four or five second lead and an ill-timed caution made for that road.

“So again, kudos to the short track package our teams have, Stewart-Haas in particular is really good. Another short course, Martinsville, Ryan Preece led every lap of the first stage. Minor pit lane incident. But that’s racing. You have to perform at all levels.

“There are so many positive things there. Yes, do we want to be better on intermediate tracks? Yes. But there are a lot of positives and there are more wins for these teams.”

Story originally appeared on Racer

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