It wasn’t that long ago when the dominance in NASCAR was not that of those that wore a bow tie, nor had a foreign make. In the 1990’s, into the early 2000’s, the manufacturer that had the most backing and the most drivers was the Ford Motor Company.
But, what happened? Where is the Ford dominance that helped build the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” attitude?
The likes of Chevrolet and Toyota have shown they are becoming the class of the field. They have overtaken the majority of the field, leaving those that carry the blue oval with very few teams. Roush-Fenway, Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports, and a few smaller teams all decide to compete in the Ford Fusion. Combined, that’s minimum of 10 teams in competition, a mere 25 percent of the field.
It’s no wonder that the Chevrolet and Toyota brands have overtaken the competition. It’s not only the fact they have a strong field of drivers, but the backing each has among the big multi-car teams is why they have won every Cup championship since 2005 (with Dodge taking the championship in 2012).
That could change come next season, especially when four new teams are joining the Ford brand.
Adding Stewart-Haas Racing to the Ford brand is an enormous boost to the sport. What this brings is four new teams in, two of which are past champions, to a group that has slowly began to show more dominance thanks to the addition to the RFR and Penske groups.
On Monday, the Ford group lost their long-time driver in Greg Biffle, as he announced he and Roush parted ways. Having the likes of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Danica Patrick come into the Ford group now is even more critical. Plus, former Roush driver Kurt Busch has experience with Ford. It was the make of car he drove when he won the first Chase in 2004, which also was the year he won his lone championship.
Even with the loss of Biffle, the Roush group still has three cars in their stable. Now, thanks to the four-team addition, that means a third of the field will campaign the Ford emblem.
The 2017 season may see the Ford product get back to the dominance that it once had in this sport.
When it was announced that SHR was going to Ford next season, it came as a surprise to everyone, especially considering the loyalty that team owner Tony Stewart had with General Motors. In 2008, the first year that Joe Gibbs Racing went from Chevrolet to Toyota, it was the lone year that Stewart was in a brand that wasn’t Chevrolet or Pontiac. That same year, he announced the venture that he was going to become an owner/driver to what is now SHR, and in doing so he returned to the GM side.
Now, Stewart is solely an owner in NASCAR, as Sunday was the final time he would put on the helmet and fire suit as a driver.
This new venture of going to a different brand seems to be different than when he was just a driver at Gibbs, but why do so now? Part of it could be from a business aspect, especially considering Ford has been an American brand, and that is important to Stewart to keep with a U.S. product. Part of it also is potentially that he is solely looking at this as an owner, rather than both as an owner and a driver. Dating back to his few races in the then-Busch Series in the late 90’s, he was in a GM product.
His one year with Toyota, it seemed as though he was not happy with the product, and was sensing a changing of the guard with the addition of Kyle Busch as a teammate, and also Joey Logano coming up the ranks.
Mostly, this could be squarely on competition, and to bring a prominent brand that has a long history in NASCAR back to it’s glory.
That takes nothing away from the Penske organization, as they too have a history of success with Ford. Between 1994 and 2000, Penske stayed true to its backing of Ford. In 2001, they jumped at the chance to join the Dodge brand when it came back into the sport, and again saw success. However, they went back to Ford in 2013, the same season that Logano joined Brad Keselowski with the team, just one year after Keselowski won the championship with Dodge.
Now, the Ford Motor Company has some fresh eyes to bring to the competition, all that could provide potential and victory right away.
It’s already clear that Penske was the class of the field when it came to plate racing in 2016, and all of the SHR drivers are well experienced when it comes to that style of action. Ford now has six potential drivers that could win the first race of the season, and at least one that may already look like a championship contender.
But, the issue will be adjusting to the handling, and the components, of the Ford product.
Busch is the lone driver that has even some experience at the wheel of Ford, and that time ended abruptly in 2005. Bowyer has only spent time at the wheel of Chevrolet when he was with Richard Childress Racing, then Toyota at Michael Waltrip Racing, and this past season was back in Chevrolet as part of HScott Motorsports.
Now, Bowyer will be with his third different team, in his third different make, in as many seasons. His learning curve will be the hardest.
Harvick and Patrick have solely been with Chevrolet since entering Cup competition, so they too will have a lot of learning of how the car handles. It is 2009 all over again for Stewart-Haas Racing as the team now comes to grips with new equipment, new information, and new affiliations. It is an entirely new set of circumstances for this team, restarting nearly from scratch to begin a quest for a championship.
The advantage is the veteran leadership that is willing to work to begin the rebuilding process, because now Stewart himself can look at the transition solely as an owner, and not just a driver.
What could be rather interesting is how Harvick, Busch, Bowyer and Patrick now get along with their new teammates, at least in brand loyalty, such as Keselowski, Logano, plus others like Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola.
Can the team make a successful transition to a new brand, new engine, and new alliances?
One won’t know until February comes.