Ford drivers look for accomplishment 25 years in the making –

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2017

It has been a quarter of a century since Ford drivers have opened a NASCAR Premier Series season with three consecutive victories.

That streak could end in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Brad Keselowski, the defending race winner and also winner of last week’s Cup race at Atlanta, will start from the pole in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Ryan Blaney, who has been fast all weekend in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, will start third – and Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano will roll off sixth in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

“It’s a good time to be aligned with Ford, for sure,” Keselowski said.

For the first time since 2009, Ford drivers have won the first two races of the Cup season. Kurt Busch went to Victory Lane in the season-opening Daytona 500 in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

But it has been 25 years since Ford teams have taken the first three events in a Cup season. That year, in 1992, they won nine in a row at the outset.

While it’s way too early to the season to draw any serious conclusions, Ford’s start out of the gate has indeed been impressive. Busch’s win came in his very first race since Stewart-Haas made the switch in manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford after last season.

Busch said he credits that win and Ford’s overall fast start this year to attention to detail – although it also helps that they’ve increased in sheer numbers simply by adding the four SHR cars to the Ford stable.  “When we made the announcement that we were switching to Ford last year, it came with extra meetings and longer driver debriefs because we were looking at blueprints and different front-end geometry changes because of Doug Yates’ engines and how they’re built slightly different … so a lot of extra work had to go into switching our cars over to Ford,” Busch said. “When you roll up your sleeves with a group of racers like we have at Stewart-Haas Racing, it allowed us to go over the car with a finer tooth comb and we looked at every area.

“When you’re changing suspension components around and you’ve got great Haas CNC machines to make these pieces, you can go through versions A, B, and C and get a lot of work done quickly. I’ll tell you, though, it was a full-on effort to get these cars switched over.”

Keselowski said Ford is more committed than ever to being successful in NASCAR. So to see early success this season is rewarding for everyone involved.

“It’s great for Ford,” Keselowski said. “They’re putting a lot of time and money into the sport of NASCAR, and to be rewarded is something you always want to see when someone makes an investment, so I’m happy for those guys. They’ve really brought in a strong leadership group that embraces motorsports with a passion from the very top.”

Busch added that within SHR, all four teams are working more closely together and with their new manufacturer. He used their approach to these first three races as an example.

“I love the way we went over all the cars in extra detail,” Busch said. “(Busch crew chief) Tony Gibson is a master at the restrictor-plate races, so his wisdom and expertise was distributed to the other teams (for Daytona). Rodney Childers (Kevin Harvick’s crew chief) is great at the mile-and-a-half tracks, so his lead for Atlanta and Vegas really kicked in.

“The way that the rest of the group chipped in to find different things in all these areas, it’s like each team took care of one specific project and the four of us have worked together in a stronger fashion than we ever have before.”

Not only that, but Busch argues that the engines being provided by Doug Yates at Roush Yates Engines are more powerful than what SHR had in the past under Chevy. And that’s not all.

“Doug Yates’ power, I want to say, is slightly better than where we were, it just feels that way,” Busch said. “The aerodynamic balance of the Ford has more distribution on one region of the car than another and it feels better.”

Both Busch and Keselowski warn that it’s very early, however. Too early to start getting too excited about driving a Ford – although they clearly are thrilled about it so far.

“It’s a big ship and the investment was made probably a year or so prior with a lot of different things,” Keselowski said. “The most visible, of course, is bringing in Stewart-Haas Racing, but there’s more to it than that.

“It’s good to see the results and it’s a sign of reward for the investment, but we can’t just take it for granted. We’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to keep working and put in the effort to go with it. I think that there is the right leadership team in place right now that really understands motorsports to continue to do so.”

But as Busch said: “You just can’t go off of two races. Let’s give it five, six or seven.”

Right now the Ford camp would like to just get No. 3 in a row to start the season for the first time in a quarter century.

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