If I were a fan of anything Ford so far as NASCAR is concerned — Ford drivers, Ford cars, Ford innovations — I’d be feeling preeeeeetty comfortable right about now. Let me explain.
First, the obvious. Ford is two months removed from celebrating a NASCAR Cup Series championship, Joey Logano’s first (and based on his youth, probably not his last). Their drivers won 19 races during the 2018 season, more than half of all events. And in the final standings, Ford drivers accounted for three of the Top 5 and half the Top 10.
About as overwhelmingly positive as you can get.
And now, in less than four weeks — man did the “off-season” ever fly by — Ford will get a chance to recapture that same magic on the sport’s grandest stage, the Daytona 500. Having previously won the 500 in 2015 and 2017, and coming off the year they just completed, you’d be foolish to count Logano, Kevin Harvick, and the rest of the Ford drivers as anything other than favorites going in.
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Now for the not-as-obvious: how the brand new Ford Mustang, which will make its NASCAR debut in Daytona, will stack up to the sport’s two other manufacturers.
In the past two years — as Toyota introduced its new Camry in 2017 and Chevy its new Camaro in 2018 — we’ve seen something of a mixed bag as far as new models are concerned.
The Toyotas come in on the positive end of the spectrum, dominating for most of the 2017 season and culminating in Martin Truex Jr.’s first Cup title. Chevy, on the other end of things, couldn’t have struggled more with its new body, winning four races and failing to advance any of its drivers to the championship race in Homestead.
So, which way does the new Mustang lean?
Herein lies the reason I’d be cautiously optimistic if I were a Ford fan. The new Camaro last season was hurt by the debut of NASCAR’s new inspection system, which granted other teams far more information about their opponents than had been available in the past. That, along with an influx of talented but inexperienced young drivers, made for a rocky first year for the Camaro ZL1.
This new Mustang, though, is actually ahead of the NASCAR curve. In addition to little turnover next season — Daniel Suarez replaces Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing, but other than that? — the Fords are still going to be driven by some of the sport’s best. In addition to Logano and Harvick, Ford also has Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney... they all won races last season and are in a prime position to do the same this year.
But even more than that, with NASCAR implementing its substantially new rules package in 2019, it figures that every manufacturer will have to make considerable changes to the tried and true models from recent years. In that regard, Ford’s new Mustang couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than trying to outfit an old body to fit new rules, why not just tailor your new body specifically to them?
Almost like killing two birds with one stone.
Of course, much of that is speculation. Ford has as talented a driving team as any manufacturer in NASCAR, and the same holds true for the intelligent group finalizing and enhancing the new Mustang. But anything is possible.
Still, recent history shows new cars have the potential to bomb or blossom. For Ford, every sign points to the latter.