Is Sunday’s Greg Biffle victory a sign of Ford Racing’s resurgence?
Certainly, the question of the manufacturer’s resurgence was bantered about on Friday as his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards blistered the field in qualifying. But one of the first tests was passed on Sunday when the No. 16 Ford ended up in Victory Lane for Ford’s 1,000th NASCAR win.
Yes, Chevrolets and Toyotas have been dominant this Sprint Cup season, winning 12 of the first 15 races. Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway was the first time this year that a Hendrick Motorsports car didn’t finish in the top 10. While three of the HMS Chevys led laps, Jimmie Johnson blew a tire while running second in pursuit of Biffle with three laps remaining in the Quicken Loans 400 and finished 28th.
That opened the door for Kevin Harvick to regain second place while Tony Stewart and his Chevy posted his third consecutive top five and moved up to 10th in the points standings in the process.
With the exception of Denny Hamlin, who experienced a shock problem on Sunday and finished 30th, it was the usual Toyota suspects at the front of the field with Biffle – Martin Truex Jr. (third), Kyle Busch (fourth), Matt Kenseth (sixth) and Clint Bowyer (seventh).
So how did the other Fords perform? Edwards improved his car in the early stages. He led twice for 16 laps before encountering overheating issues and finished eighth. He cut Johnson’s point lead by 20 points. Joey Logano showed muscle and led three times for a total of 21 laps before posting a ninth-place finish – his seventh top 10 of the season. Brad Keselowski finished 12th and part-timer Trevor Bayne collected his first top-15 result of the year.
While Ford is still lagging in the win column, Edwards (second), Biffle (eighth) and Keselowski (nine) currently hold places among the top 10 in the standings. But as Biffle is quick to remind, “We’re certainly not celebrating that we’ve found everything yet.
“I certainly don’t want to downplay our success at all because this is pretty exciting for our team and what we’ve done. But we feel like, I feel like, we’ve just scratched the surface of how much better our cars are going to get, and we’re going to work towards getting them better until the end of the season.
“We were nowhere near competing with the 48 (Johnson) car and the 5 (Kahne) and a few others last week at Pocono, but we got up there, got track position, our car was fast in fairly clean air and we finished second. And here (Sunday) it was obvious that the 48 was a little bit faster than us again. So we’ve gained on it, definitely we’ve gained on it. But we’re not celebrating quite yet. If you want to put it on a scale, we’ve probably found half of the speed we needed to and downforce or front suspension or whatever. But we’ve got some work to do still.”
Ford’s top two NASCAR owners, Jack Roush and Roger Penske, were both optimistic following a meeting between the two teams last week in an effort to further promote the Ford One philosophy. Although Penske returned to the Ford camp this season, there has not been a spirit of cooperation between the two organizations such as the one that’s promoted in the Toyota camp. Roush acknowledged that talk centered on future engineering strategies.
“The primary benefit of that cooperation is in front of us,” Roush said. “We’ve done very little together. We have had one cooperative wind tunnel test that exposed some things to both teams that were different about the cars. We’ve just scratched the surface on it.
"The Penske organization is obviously a great program. They won a championship last year, and they’ve run very well at a number of the races where we’ve struggled seemingly this year so far. But it’s going to be great to have somebody that we can share information with and to learn from in some things where we might be deficient. . . . We look forward to the one Ford thing that Jamie Allison (director, Ford Racing) talks about coming to fruition and being of benefit to both teams.”
TURNING LEFT AND RIGHT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be the first driver to admit that his “confidence” at Sonoma isn’t equal to that at many of the other tracks coming up on the Sprint Cup tour.
“We feel like we are coming through a stretch of races and racetracks, if you take out Sonoma, that we should run pretty well at,” Earnhardt said. “Not that we won’t go to Sonoma and hope to run well, we will, but the track record speaks for itself there.”
In 13 starts, Earnhardt has never posted a top-10 finish at the 1.99-mile road course. His best finish is 11th – which he earned three times. He has completed 1,353 of a possible 1,441 laps and has led just nine circuits.
“We did test at Kershaw (Carolina Motorsports Park) to try to get ourselves a good chance of getting maybe hopefully my career-best finish at that place,” Earnhardt said. “We will try to do that.”
After his second engine failure in four weeks Sunday at Michigan, Earnhardt can use a solid weekend in Sonoma.
The death of Jason Leffler last Wednesday reopened the discussion of the dangers of racing – particularly in regard to open-wheel cars.
As of Sunday morning, team owner Rick Hendrick had not spoken about the accident with his driver Kasey Kahne, who fields sprint car entries in the World of Outlaws. They did discuss racing in other series, though, two years ago when Kahne was under contract but not yet driving for Hendrick after he flipped his WoO car over the fence at Williams Grove Speedway following contact with another competitor.
“I’ve asked him not to do that,” Hendrick said. “He could do anything. But Kasey is so good with such a bright future. I’d hate to see him get hurt.”
Hendrick added that Kahne’s principal Sprint Cup sponsor Farmers Insurance has not expressed concern.
James Buescher took time to break his own news on Twitter Monday.
I am excited to announce that I will be making my first @NASCAR_NNS start of ’13 this w/e at @roadamerica! Cant wait to turn left and right!
3: Wins by Dodge at Sonoma in the last six events. Alas, the manufacturer won’t be there this weekend.
5th: The average starting position at Sonoma for Marcos Ambrose – best on the tour.
9: Current Sprint Cup competitors with wins at Sonoma. Only Jeff Gordon (5) and Tony Stewart (2) have more than one victory.
11: Races since a Ford went to Victory Lane at Sonoma – Ricky Rudd in 2002.
David Ragan took his “fascination with big trucks” one step further when he recently acquired his commercial driver’s license. But the true test will come this week as the Front Row Motorsports racer uses his mad driving skills to transport his race cars cross-country from North Carolina to Sonoma, Calif.
“I thought it would be fun to take a trip across the country on the open roads and see everything, and at the same time get to spend some time with my truck driver (Mike Smith),” Regan said. “At first, (Smith) didn’t really believe me. But I showed him my license and told him I’d been driving the transporter for my late model team a little. Now, I think he’s excited. It’s going to be something different and something fun. Although he’s probably going to sleep with one eye open just to make sure I’m not driving too crazy."