In the first half of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Chevrolet recorded eight wins, Toyota four and Ford one.
After the first 13 races last year, Ford owned three, Chevrolet seven and Toyota three.
“It’s tough right now and it’s likely to be tough for the foreseeable future until we can make some adjustments,” said Ford driver Joey Logano.
Following the Next Gen car’s inaugural season in 2022, NASCAR allowed each Cup Series manufacturer to customize the front end and cooling packages of its entry-level model for 2023, a move that appears to have helped Chevrolet and Toyota, but was extremely disappointing for Ford.
“We didn’t maximize as well as we needed to,” said Joey Logano, who holds Ford’s only victory in the first 13 points races of this season. “We are constantly looking for improvements and how to make our cars better, just like everyone else’s, but we are starting a little bit behind. It doesn’t mean we can’t win races. It just means we have to be perfect. We lack downforce.”
In the first half of the regular season, Chevrolet had eight wins, Toyota four and Ford one. After the first 13 races last year, Ford owned three, Chevrolet seven and Toyota three.
“It’s been a tough year,” said Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Global Director. “We also had a tough year, I think, in the middle of the season last year. We didn’t win the number of races we wanted. We feel like we’re in a similar situation this year with just one win…but we put in some really strong performances that didn’t convert.
So, could Ford’s plan for the 2024 NASCAR Cup season include a new car? When Rushbrook was asked that question, he just smiled and shrugged.
“Where we see room for improvement is on the intermediate circuits,” said Rushbrook, referring to the 2023 season. “The cars aren’t that far apart between manufacturers aerodynamically, but they are different. Even those minor differences end in a long green flag run separating the cars. It’s discovering the fine-tuning knobs that we have. The chassis is very sensitive in the setup. It’s not one big thing. It’s a lot of little things.”
Looking at Ford’s stats in general, the manufacturer’s performance in the first 13 races of the season appears to be better than last year, despite the overall win gap. Ford drivers have 18 top-five finishes this year, compared to 14 last year, and more top-10 finishes, 42 to 35. It also has more laps in the lead, 856 to 847, and more drivers in the top 10 and top 20 in the points classification. This year Ford has three drivers in the top 10 and seven in the top 20, while in 2022 it had two in the top 10 and six in the top 20.
However, when the manufacturer’s results are looked at race by race, there is a lack of consistency. Some events were quite dismal, while others were as good or better than last year.
In the gloomy department:
Phoenix. Won by Ford last year. In that 312-lap race, Ford owned half of the top-10 finishers and led for 248 laps. This year it had two top-10 finishers in the 317-lap race and led for 37 laps.
America’s circuit. Three top-10 finishers this year in the 75-lap event, but leading only four laps. In the 2022 69-lap event, only two Ford drivers finished in the top 10, but the manufacturer led four different drivers for 16 laps.
Richmond showed the same imbalance. This year four Ford drivers finished in the top 10, but Brad Keselowski was the only driver to lead and that was a single lap. Last year, Ford led 129 laps on short track, but only had two top-10 finishers.
Bristol Dirt. Last year Chase Briscoe led for 59 laps, but not a single lap was led by a Ford driver this season. However, three Ford drivers finished in the top 10 both years.
Dover. Only eight laps were completed by a Ford this year and all of them were driven by Keselowski. However, three Ford drivers finished in the top 10. Last year, two drivers achieved a top 10 finish, while Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney led a total of 26 laps.
Darlington. Joey Logano gave Ford its third win in the first 13 races of the 2022 season, leading 107 laps in progress, while Kevin Harvick added one for a total of 108. However, only three Fords finished in the top 10. This year Ford recorded half of the top 10 finishers, but led only nine laps.
It took Ford this year until race seven -Richmond- to get four drivers into the top 10 and event 1 -Talladega- to claim half of the top-10 finishers. That’s a huge change from 2022, when Ford won the season-opening Daytona 500 and had six of the top-10 finishers.
Superspeedway-style racing this season has given Ford its shining moments. The manufacturer was one position shy of winning the Daytona 500 and Ford drivers led 122 of the 212 laps. Keselowski and Buescher were the top lap leaders, combining for 74 laps.
Even before Atlanta’s reconfiguration, the 1,540-mile track was conducive to good Ford performance due to its long sweeping turns and short straights. With the superspeedway style racing it now spawns, this year’s event was all about Ford. Logano won and Keselowski finished second. Ford drivers led 220 of the 260 laps with Logano topping the chart with 140.
Talladega also gave Ford a good performance. The Detroit-based manufacturer claimed half of the top-10 and led for 88 laps before once again having to settle for second.
“It’s tough right now and it’s probably going to get tough in the near future until we can make some adjustments,” said Logano, who is the top Ford in laps this season with 217, but fifth overall in the category and eighth overall in points . . “If I look at the races that we run perfectly from the perspective of the car setup, the pit lane, the strategy restart, if we get all of them, we can win.
“If we miss one, we can’t win.”