Why Ford is gambling big on Stewart-Haas Racing

So why, exactly, did Ford Motor Co. invest untold millions of dollars into bring Stewart-Haas Racing into the Blue Oval?

Simple: Ford very badly wants to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Manufacturers’ Championship, something it hasn’t done since 2002.

Let’s give that a little context.

Last year, the only Ford driver to make it to the Championship Round of the Chase was Joey Logano. When Ford won its last manufacturers’ title, Logano was 12 years old.

And a driver title, something they haven’t had since Kurt Busch won in 2004 with Jack Roush, would be pretty sweet, too.

Winning makes it easier to justify the expense to the board of directors.

Winning makes it easier to sell cars and trucks.

Winning gives you bragging rights.

So, yeah, for Ford’s management, it’s time to win.

“We’re looking forward to getting to Daytona and getting on the track and start racing, so we can start shooting for that championship that’s long overdue,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president for global product development and chief technical officer, during a media briefing on Wednesday.

“We’ve not achieved that goal of a manufacturer’s championship,” said Nair. “We’ve not achieve that goal of the driver’s championship. I would say both are important. For us as a manufacturer, obviously, the fight with Chevy and Toyota is really important, but the driver’s championship is equally as important. So we want to win both and we are doing everything we know how to do that.”

And that’s where SHR comes in to augment Ford’s partnerships with Team Penske, Wood Brothers Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

As a Ford source told me when the SHR deal was announced nearly a year ago, “We didn’t want to add just another team. We wanted to add a championship-capable team.”

Ford certainly has done just that.

SHR won titles with Tony Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014, while Busch is a past champion and newcomer Clint Bowyer finished second in points in 2012.

This is a team used to winning and ready to pick up right where they left off last year, when Stewart, Harvick and Busch all won races and made the Chase.

For his part, Stewart likes what he’s seen so far, even if he won’t be in the cockpit this year.

“We feel like the resources that we have now are greater than what we had before and something that we haven’t seen,” said Stewart. “So that was a very big tool that we hadn’t had in the past, and one of the main reasons we made the switch. We feel like we have resources that were never available to us in the past.”

Dave Pericak, Global Director, Ford Performance, is bullish, too: “At the end of the day, I feel like we’re in the best position we’ve been in in probably a decade with the number of cars we have, with the quality of drivers that we have, and with the engineering staff that’s supporting the teams to perform as well as we expect to perform,” said Pericak.

If you’re a Ford fan, it all sounds great and it comes with one giant caveat: In January, every single manufacturer, team owner, driver and crew is optimistic about the year ahead.

Next week, on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, we’ll hear from the Chevrolet and Toyota teams and they’ll be bullish, too.

And that’s why the season can’t come soon enough.

Come Feb. 26 at Daytona, the talking will stop and the real racing will start.

Figure by the middle of April or so, we’ll know who has their act together and who doesn’t.

Let the fun begin.