Revived Ford out to end NASCAR title drought

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJuly 12, 2014 

— Much of the first half of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season seemed a set-up for another Chevrolet driver championship coronation in November.

Chevrolet drivers won nine of the first 15 races with an occasional visit by Ford and even less from the Toyota camp.

Ford’s struggles – particularly those by the Roush Fenway Racing organization – have been well-documented and were punctuated by a dismal showing in the June race at Michigan, the manufacturer’s headquarters.

But a funny thing happened the last three weeks – Ford drivers won. Three drivers on three very different tracks and involving each of the manufacturer’s major teams.

Entering Sunday’s Camping World 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, four Ford drivers – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola – are now virtually ensured of competing for this season’s championship.

And there is the possibility of more in the coming weeks.

Suddenly Ford’s season – whose only bright spot appeared to be Team Penske – now holds the possibility of the manufacturer earning its first Cup series driver’s championship since 2004.

“I do feel like one of us can win the championship,” said Logano, who has two victories already this season. “I feel like Team Penske – the only one I can speak for – we have been doing a good job.

“Are we where we want to be? No. We want to keep getting better and will work with Ford with what we can work on them with to make our cars better and all of Ford better.”

Ford and its Roush Yates Engines are the only common denominator in the past three races during which Carl Edwards won on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., Keselowski won on the intermediate track at Kentucky and Almirola captured a superspeedway victory at Daytona.

“To win on a road course, an intermediate, and a speedway – that covers a lot of bases and the only one left is a short track, which we won at Richmond and Bristol earlier this year – so I feel really good about our program,” said Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines.

“Racing is a leapfrog business. You get your program really good and people are working hard to catch you and when they catch you, they jump ahead of you for a little while.

“That’s just the nature of the sport.”

Each major Ford organization – Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports – have their own individual strengths and weaknesses this season.

Together, however, they hold a viable prospect of ending Ford’s championship drought in the Cup series.

Kurt Busch, then driving for Roush, was the last Ford driver to win the Cup title, in 2004, the first season NASCAR utilized the Chase format to determine the championship.

Ford drivers have come close several times since, most recently Edwards in 2011 when Edwards tied Tony Stewart in points, only to lose the championship in a tiebreaker (number of wins during the season).

“We’re really focused on the Chase and what we have to do as an engine company to give our teams what they need to win this championship,” Yates said. “That’s our goal and that’s the motivation right now.

“The Chase this year is much different than years past. It’s a different format and we’re really focused in on that today.”

Wins are the primary method drivers can qualify for the Chase and with five races remaining before the 16-driver Chase field is set, there remain several opportunities for the Ford camp to expand its list of Chase contenders.

“We’re really pushing hard to get Greg Biffle a win, along with Marcos Ambrose and Ricky Stenhouse,” Yates said. “I thought Daytona was an opportunity for that and felt like it could come together, and it did for (Almirola).

“It’s awesome to see those guys locked in the Chase.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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