Ford teams and their fans suffered through a brutal and disappointing 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, from Joey Logano getting knocked out of the Chase to the team Jack Roush founded going winless for the first time since 1996.
In the NASCAR Manufacturers’ Championship, Ford finished a distant third behind Chevrolet and Toyota. And Ford hasn’t had a driver win the Cup title since Kurt Busch captured the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004.
Wednesday is Ford’s day at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, with Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske all on the agenda.
Needless to say, 2016 is a critical turnaround year for Ford in NASCAR, and in the off-season, Ford teams have made significant changes.
Roush Fenway Racing has formed a technical alliance with Front Row Motorsports and is loaning reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champ Chris Buescher and crew chief Bob Osborne to Front Row, where Buescher will drive the No. 34 Ford. Buescher will also have a new teammate in the talented Landon Cassill.
The Wood Brothers will race full time for the first time since 2008, with Ryan Blaney set to run for rookie-of the-year honors in the iconic No. 21.
At RPM, Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Ford are gone, replaced by Brian Scott, who will drive the No. 44 for the teams. RPM also added veteran Chris Heroy as Scott’s crew chief, and for the first time, the team will build its own chassis this year after starting to hang its own bodies last year.
“We are looking forward to building on that this year and a better product and faster cars for the guys to work with,” said Sammy Johns, RPM’s director of operations.
Over at Roush Fenway, Greg Biffle, the team’s senior driver, said Wednesday that he is optimistic the team has identified its problem areas and will be more competitive this year.
“We’ve got a new nose on the car, a little better aerodynamics,” said Biffle. “We’ve improved our game. We’ve got new people., reorganized the way we build cars in our shop. … If you start adding these little changes up, it starts to make a difference, and I think that’s what we’re going to see in 2016.”
Biffle’s teammate, Trevor Bayne, said that being off a little in speed in NASCAR is by definition being off a lot. “We’re talking tenths of a second,” said Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner. “We’re talking tenths that put you 30th or at the top of the leaderboard.”
The team is hoping they find a tenth or two per lap this season, which would make them competitive again.
“Are we winning races in the spring? I think so,” said Biffle. “I’ll be disappointed if we’re not or not in contention. And if we’re not, we’re not going to give up.”
Whether the team succeeded or not will become apparent soon enough.
“I recognize that for every race team or sports team coming up to a new season that hope springs eternal and we are ultimately going to be measured with how we do on the track,” said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark. “It is a beautiful sport where we get a report card each week of how we are doing but I can tell you we are ready to get on the track and showcase the talent of the guys up here and are excited about a successful season in 2016.”