NASCAR: Ford Fusion getting better with age for Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing
By Kelly Crandall | RACER.com NASCAR correspondent
“Drubbing” turned out to mean domination for the Ford camp in this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Competing with the oldest body style in the series, concern was raised by some that Ford teams were going to trail the competition by a significant margin in 2018. A year ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Penske Ford driver Brad Keselowski used the word “drubbing” to describe what could be ahead.
Fast forward a year and Mark Rushbrook, the global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, was back on stage during the manufacturer’s media availability, discussing a season that has turned out very differently. Ford once again has two drivers competing for the championship, but this season Ford drivers have combined for 18 victories to date (to last year’s 10) and seven of them qualified for the playoffs.
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“Our focus has been to give a lot more technical depth and support to our teams, and with such strong competition against Toyota and Chevy, that’s been a long process for us,” said Rushbrook. “It’s really been three years or more in the making to improve our game in every area that’s important for the performance on the track — the engine program, the aerodynamics, the body program, simulation, tire modeling, driveline, everything. You’ve got to have strength in every area. It’s been a long process for sure.
“And even having the oldest body by design, we still were focused on using our advance aerodynamics tools to improve the performance. I think that has paid off this year.”
At the beginning of the year, Keselowski expressed hope that NASCAR’s new inspection process, utilizing the Optical Scanning Station that more closely scrutinizes cars, would help close the gap between teams. Rushbrook thinks inspection has helped, but Ford’s own improvements have played a bigger role in its uptick in performance.
“You’re right, ‘drubbing’ was the right word that I think was used, and it is a focus that we had,” he said. “The inspection process, that changes part of it because any time you go through a big change like that, it does affect how the teams prepare the cars. But I think the biggest part is the advanced tools that we’ve developed over the last couple years have really matured to the point that they were able to help us, especially in the area of CFD, where we use that advanced computational fluid dynamics tool, the same tool that we use on our road cars and road trucks to make them better.
“We applied it into racing starting two years ago, and it took a little bit of time to adjust those tools, test those tools in this environment to make them even better, and now that is paying off on the performance on the track with the Fusion with what we’ve seen.”
“Just because the Chevrolets were really, really fast at all the tests they went to pre‑season; the Toyotas were where they were last year,” said Harvick, recalling why the Ford teams were considered underdogs. “Obviously, a lot changed over the offseason with the way the cars were inspected, the splitter rule. All that stuff kind of seemed to fall into our wheelhouse. We were able to have a lot of speed in the car, and our guys have done a good job.”
Ford is still looking for its first driver’s championship in the Cup Series since 2004, and has two shots at achieving that on Sunday with Harvick and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. On the manufacturer’s championship side, Ford is also in the position to win that title (which would be its first since 2002), as the group leads Chevrolet by 18 points.
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