Will Ford's Problems Carry over into 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

Illustration courtesy: MuscleMustangFastFords.com

Try as I may to find a better way to say it, there’s just no denying the facts: Ford had another lackluster NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2013.

The blue oval folks had a terrible Chase. Just three Ford-powered drivers made the 10-race playoff—with none of them winning a Chase race.

Only 2012 Cup champ Brad Keselowski was the sole Ford-powered racer to win a race in this season’s Chase—and he didn’t even qualify for it.

Even worse, of the three Ford drivers that did make this year’s Chase, the highest finisher was eighth-ranked Joey Logano.

Greg Biffle, who is typically a threat in the Chase, was almost a virtual non-entity, finishing ninth.

And Carl Edwards was perhaps the biggest surprise—and disappointment—for Ford and Roush Fenway Racing fans, ending the Chase dead last in the expanded 13-driver field.

But wait, the bad news for Ford doesn’t end there.

Driving a Ford in 2013, Keselowski failed to make the Chase and could not defend his 2012 championship (although he admittedly won it driving a Dodge).

There’s more bad news: Marcos Ambrose, who many predicted as a Chase contender, didn’t even come close, ultimately finishing 22nd.

Ambrose’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola, finished slightly better at 18th.

But perhaps the worst fact of all is that Chevrolet won 16 races. Toyota was a close second, claiming 14 victories.

Ford, on the other hand, managed just six wins again for the second year in a row—and that’s after winning seven races in 2011, four races in 2010 and three in 2009.

That’s a total of 26 wins across five seasons. Divide that by 180 races during that same period and Ford has averaged just over five wins in each of the last five seasons.

Why, newly-crowned Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson (six wins) and runner-up Matt Kenseth (seven wins) individually had as many or more wins than Ford drivers did collectively this past season.

I mean, really, what the heck has happened to Ford?

This is just my opinion, but I think the problem can be traced back to Roush Fenway Racing thinking it could become the Hendrick Motorsports of Ford.

By wanting to take on HMS and, to a lesser extent the Toyota-powered Joe Gibbs Racing, RFR made a major tactical error dating back several years ago that continues to hound them today.

Hear me out.

While RFR has had good success over the years, its last championship was 2004 (Kurt Busch), preceded a year earlier by Matt Kenseth’s title, also in a Ford.

Since then, zero championships.

And the reason for that is RFR began to try and emulate HMS’s playbook—only to find out it was missing quite a few pages when it came to keys to success.

Doug Yates, RFR’s master engine builder, is nothing short of a genius when it comes to getting the most out of a motor.

But once RFR began building motors for not only itself but other teams as well, much like Hendrick Motorsports does for a number of other Chevrolet-powered teams including Stewart-Haas Racing, that’s when the downturn began.

What was once a sole province of RFR (and to a lesser extent, Wood Brothers Racing), Ford motors and other parts began to be sold to other teams that aligned themselves with the blue circle: Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports and most recently Penske Motorsports.

Yates’ quality is still in the engines, but when you start taking on a half-dozen more teams on top of your own three teams, the ability to stand out—not to mention the time for more R&D—kind of goes out the window.

And that, I feel, is what has happened at RFR: increased quantity has led to decreased quality.

You can even see that just in the RFR camp. Look at Edwards: he lost the 2011 championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker (five wins for Stewart to just one for Edwards), failed to make the Chase (or win a race) in 2012 and then had a horrible Chase in 2013.

Up, down, so-so. That capsulizes the last three seasons for Edwards. It wasn’t so much that he underachieved, but rather the cars and motors around him did so.

Don’t believe me?

Pop quiz: Of Ford’s six wins in 2013, how many drivers had more than one triumph?

Would you believe just one? And it was Edwards who earned that distinction, with two wins. The other four wins in 2013 were single visits to victory lane for Logano, Biffle, Keselowski and David Ragan.

Now compare that to the top four finishers this season. Chevy-powered Johnson (six wins) and third-place finisher Kevin Harvick (four) combined for 10 wins between them.

Runner-up Matt Kenseth (series-leading seven wins) and fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch (four) combined for 11 wins between them with Toyota power.

Add those numbers up and just four drivers accounted for a massive 21 wins in the 36 Cup races this season.

Will Ford be better in 2014?

The way I see it, next season could be the most pivotal year for Ford in at least a decade. Performance—and wins—has to pick up considerably.

What’s more, while Yates and RFR will continue to provide motors to their Ford brethren yet again in 2014, it is pretty apparent that Petty, Front Row and Penske need to do some serious engine tweaking of their own to what they get out of the box.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if several of the current Ford driver stalwarts like Biffle and Edwards eventually decide to jump ship like former teammate Kenseth and take their talents to a manufacturer that does something Ford hasn’t been able to do in a decade: win a championship—and a heck of a lot more races.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski


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