Ford officials look to avoid new car blues

CONCORD, N.C. – Ford ended a 13-year title drought in NASCAR’s top series this past season, but its teams will be starting from scratch in 2019.

Gone is the Fusion, the model raced by Ford teams since 2006 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and now replaced by the Mustang.

Also gone is the 2018 rules package as NASCAR has implemented changes that will lessen horsepower and increase downforce, a turnabout from previous years’ rules movements.

With so much change ahead, can Ford teams avoid the potential pitfalls of rolling out a new car, adapt to a new rules package and still remain title contenders?

“I think we’re in a good place,” Pat DiMarco, Ford Performance NASCAR Supervisor, said Wednesday during a media gathering at the Ford Performance technical center. “We think we’re in the ballpark. But with the new aero changes that NASCAR has (put in place), there’s really no baseline for it.

“That’s good and bad. The good part of it is our competitors are in the same boat, trying to develop the new rules package. (It’s) bad because we don’t have a good baseline.”

The Fusion, a model that, with an upgrade or two along the way, has been the manufacturer’s workhorse since 2006. Joey Logano’s 2018 Cup championship with Team Penske was the first and the last for the model.

Roughly one-third of the NASCAR Cup field in ’18 consisted of Ford entries.

Ford officials witnessed the struggles of rival Chevrolet teams this past season, struggles that were due in part to a model change.

After winning 10 of 14 championships between 2005-16, Chevrolet organizations made the move from the SS model to the Camaro ZL1. Its teams won just four of 36 points races, the fewest since 1982. Meanwhile, Ford teams won 19 times. Toyota entries accounted for the remaining 13 race wins.

“Obviously we watch our competition closely and for sure saw that Chevy struggled,” Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said. “What fully led to those struggles … I would assume they understand better than we do.

“A lot of speculation is that it was due to the new body, but it was also potentially due to the new rules or the new rules enforcement with the Hawkeye (inspection system).”

The Hawkeye system uses cameras to scan each car and provides a much more accurate measurement of the body than hand-held templates previously provided.

The Chevrolet falloff in performance was something few expected. Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson went winless for the first time in his Cup career; Kyle Larson, a four-time winner in ’17, also failed to find victory lane.

Rushbrook said his group wants to avoid taking such a step backward.

“I know Chevy didn’t want to take a step backwards,” he said. “I know there are no guarantees on that. We’ve got a new body, we’ve got new aero rules, so we’ve got a lot to continue to learn but that’s the intent, to be competitive from the first race.”

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