NASCAR

Ford drivers continue to struggle

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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BROOKLYN, Mich.

Time trials for the Quicken Loans 400 offered Ford Racing a glimmer of hope when Carl Edwards posted the fastest speed in qualifying on Friday.

PHOTOS!

NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide series make it happen at Michigan. CHECK OUT THE ACTION

That momentum all but disappeared following Saturday’s Happy Hour.

It’s not that the No. 99 Fastenal Ford had run off the rails. Early in the session, Edwards posted the fifth fastest lap (195.721mph) that held until the end of practice. Yet, as the track changed when the temperature rose 10 degrees in the final 30 minutes, Edwards was struggling to duplicate the feel he found on Friday.

“We’re kind of struggling right now in Happy Hour,” Edwards said. “I know Jimmie Johnson is really fast. Kurt (Busch) is really fast. It looks like Kasey (Kahne) is really fast, so I’m going over to talk to Greg (Biffle) a little bit and see what we can do to fix it.

“We know the car has speed, we just need to know how to make it work in race trim.”

Just when Ford fans thought it was safe to pull out the Blue Oval gear again, the wait to celebrate a Fusion victory could still be a ways off. Although Edward’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate Biffle was ninth and the Penske Racing Ford of Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10, Richard Petty Motorsports’ Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth on Friday, was 23rd on the speed chart less than 24 hours later.

Edwards spoke of an all-hands meeting last week at Roush Fenway, where the company discussed “things we needed to do better as a group and working with the folks at Penske and we just started this ball rolling.”

That weekend at Pocono, Edwards led laps and ran up front for most of the day, while Biffle finished a season-best second. RFR followed up the initial discussion with a meeting at Ford World Headquarters on Thursday.

“The process that is going to put us out in front of Hendrick Motorsports and the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing and the rest of these guys every Sunday, that process is just starting,” Edwards said. “We can use this, these positive things like pole position and hopefully a win and Greg’s run last week; we can use these things to move forward and gain faith in a better process and I think that is going to be great.”

At the start of the season, Ford officials expressed the desire to mirror the One Ford philosophy embodied by the parent company up the road in Dearborn. Racing bosses had hopes of a manufacturer’s title as their new Generation 6 car was unveiled in January.

After 14 races, Ford is in the cellar in Sprint Cup manufacturer points after posting just two wins — Edwards at Phoenix International Raceway and Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan at Talladega Superspeedway.

Dale Jr past winner At Michigan

Dale Jr Wins At Michigan

Take look at who has been in Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway.PHOTOS

“Obviously we are dealing with a foundational understanding and adaptation of the new Gen-6 platform in terms of what the NASCAR package was and the fact that we have new bodies on these cars as well as the acclimation and integration of adding another voice into the great team that we have assembled,” said director of Ford Racing Jamie Allison. “It is just going to take a little bit of time. I know there is not a lot of patience by the fans or by us and there is not a lot of patience by the teams. Everybody expects immediate results and that is our expectation.

“I tell you, we have the makeup of greatness. We have the makeup of great teams, champion drivers and crew chiefs and great engineering pedigree. We will address the issues we have identified and advance our program more cohesively.”

CONTRIBUTING TO THE CAUSE

After Regan Smith’s win in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, he dedicated his victory and share of the purse to Charlie Dean, the five-year-old son of the late Jason Leffler.

“Although I wasn’t as close to Jason as some of the guys around here were to him, I enjoyed being around him when I had the opportunity to be,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we remember that he had a son, Charlie Dean, and as a racing community we’ve got to play a part in helping him out and helping him grow as a person as he grows older.

“Certainly, he’s going to be missed and we don’t want to forget about his family.”

Leffler, a former USAC champ and NASCAR campaigner, died Wednesday night following a wreck in a 410 winged Sprint car at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J. He was 37.

Friends of “Lefturn” have set up a trust: Charlie Dean Leffler Discretionary Trust c/o Sun Trust Bank, 232 Williamson Road, Mooresville, N.C. 28117.

SOCIALIZING

Following a difficult day compounded by contact with Joey Logano, a cut tire and a 20th-place finish in the Nationwide Series race, Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) tweeted, “Wow frustrating day very proud of my guys they did a great job. You can’t fix a flat tire hopefully our luck will change soon enough!”

Dillon tapered his tweet. Following the race the Richard Childress Driver, who is currently fourth in NNS points, approached Logano. He said on the radio, “I told him I didn’t like the way he raced me there. I’m racing tomorrow in the Cup race. It goes both ways.”

Dillon, 23, qualified seventh for Sunday’s Quicken Loan 400 – a career-best in what will be his seventh Sprint Cup start.

TRADING PLACES

The JTG/Daugherty Racing experiment of plugging in AJ Allmendinger in favor of veteran and former champion Bobby Labonte has been a “learning experience” for the substitute driver.

“He’s given us a different perspective because he’s been in other cars,” said team owner Tad Geschickter.

When comparing Allmendinger’s early results to Labonte’s, it’s clear the No. 47 Toyota is missing something — mainly horsepower. Dinger qualified a season-low 32nd. Behind the wheel of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy, Labonte qualified 20th — his best result of the season. Although Phoenix is a single-car operation, its alliance with Hendrick Motorsports engines enables the team to share certain data.

That benefit is not an option for JTG/D, says General Manager Bobby Hutchens.

“Some weekends you unload and you’re fine,” Hutchens said. “Other weekends, you’re out in the middle of the infield. The big teams are looking at each other’s data — like they can turn around and see what each other’s got. We turn around and just see ourselves. That’s the reality of it.”

In between practices, Labonte and Allmendinger conferred with team principals and engineers and compared the two rides.

NUMBERS GAME

0: Engine issues for Toyota this weekend.

0: Wins for Jimmie Johnson in 22 starts at Michigan Speedway, one of just five current Cup tracks where the five-time champion has yet to win

58: Point lead for Regan Smith in the Nationwide Series.

SAY WHAT?

Nationwide Series rookie Kyle Larson finished second at Michigan on Saturday, tying his personal best on the tour. Although the 20-year-old won in the truck series at Rockingham in April, he’s still looking for his first NNS win. Following the race, Larson felt he let the team down, despite crossing the line just 0.330-seconds behind former Cup campaigner Regan Smith.

“You’re going to get many, just keep on doing what you’re doing, great run,” said crew chief Trent Owens.

“Second, twice, not bad I guess,” Larson said.

“We’ll get one, don’t worry,” spotter Loren Ranier said. “We’re doing good here. We’ll get many.”

Tagged: Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Jason Leffler, Bobby Labonte, Carl Edwards, Regan Smith

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