The Ford Mustang will replace the Fusion in NASCAR’s Cup series beginning next season, a move that’s been expected but unofficial. Until Tuesday.
The automaker announced the move via press release Tuesday morning; by mid-afternoon Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, was answering media inquiries by phone while in Europe.
“We’re excited about going to that nameplate specifically because it’s very much Ford,” Rushbrook said. “When people hear Mustang they automatically think of Ford. It’s a big nameplate for us.”
It’s the fourth model change in NASCAR’s premier series for the company since 1998 when the move was made from the Thunderbird to the Taurus. The Fusion debuted in ’06, replacing the Taurus and last went through an upgrade in ’16.
Ford teams currently compete with the Mustang body style in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series.
According to Rushbrook, NASCAR organizations Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing are working with Ford officials on the development of the Mustang race entry.
“They’re anxious to get the best car that they can on track in 2019, so they’ve been very active with us from the beginning of this program,” he said.
Ford teams have won four of this year’s first eight races; a year ago they matched Chevrolet with 10 wins each by season’s end.
Toyota, the most recent addition to the automaker battle, has led with 16 wins in 2016 and ’17. That company utilizes the Camry for its NASCAR efforts.
On the championship front, the last time a Ford team won the NASCAR Cup title was in 2004.
Rushbrook said the submission of the new car will be made to NASCAR, as required, in June.
“Then depending on how things go with that initial test, that will lay out the rest of our timeline in terms of the tools to build the 2019 bodies and when we’re going to do our official unveiling of the final product and everything like that,” he said.
Chevrolet teams unveiled a new model this season when the automaker replaced the phased-out SS with the Chevrolet Camaro.
Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500, but on the whole, Chevy teams have struggled to dial in the new entry.
“We know where the current Fusion is strong and we’re going to maintain those strengths,” Rushbrook said. “We know where its weak and we want to address those weaknesses, so it’s really having the trust in our people and in our tools that we can do that.”