Depending on what driver or person you ask, the answer may vary on what to expect out of the Ford teams for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Most people though side on the fact that they may struggle. Last year, Ford put two drivers in the Championship 4 at Homestead, but they were really non factors in the race itself. As far as the whole season went, they were down across the board compared to the other two manufacturers.
Well, Toyota will be in Year No. 2 with their new Camry and Chevrolet will be in the first year with their new Camaro. If Chevrolet improves the way that Toyota did last year with their new car, then watch out. Also, with how well Toyota did in 2017, I don’t really see a scenario where their success drops off in 2018.
So, with Toyota not giving up much of their pie and Chevrolet gaining more on their end, what does that leave Ford?
While the new inspection process will aid in helping close any gaps, what if Toyota and Chevrolet teams aren’t pushing the envelope for their speed? What if Toyota’s success last year was them working within the rule book? What if Chevrolet has the expected improvement in 2018 and they too are within the standards set forth?
That leaves Ford with even less than they had last year.
That’s why I fully buy into what Brad Keselowski has been saying about the potential Ford 2018 struggles. With that being said though, can the Ford teams capitalize during Daytona Speedweeks? We know that the restrictor plate tracks don’t mask the aero problems that the other tracks cause. It’s more of an even playing field per say.
Or is it?
Ford has by far been the best manufacturer the last four years on plate tracks. They’ve won 11 of the last 14 points paying plate races, including seven straight. They were four-for-four in 2017 and won the final three plate races of the 2017 season. If there’s going to be a drop off in stats for Ford teams in 2018, it won’t be on the plate tracks.
So, can they capitalize over Speedweeks is the real question then? Can they start out of the gates hot? Can they capitalize on one of the few tracks that they will have superior equipment?
Stewart-Haas Racing has to be among the favorites with last year’s Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch looking to defend his crown. Then there’s Kevin Harvick. Out of the last 22 Speedweeks races, 19 of the 22 of them have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske. Just Kevin Harvick and Busch are the only non JGR, Hendrick or Penske winners since 2013. Harvick’s two wins came with Chevrolet though, five years ago. Now that he has Ford power and that Ford advantage, I’d look for him to do like Busch did last year and possibly win the season opening race. You also have plate racing extraordinaire Aric Almirola now with the team and always good plate racer Clint Bowyer within the SHR camp.
Ford also has Team Penske. They’re part of those 19 wins, but they have just two Clash wins this millennium. Luckily, both have come since 2011, including Joey Logano’s win just last year. As far as the Duels go, Penske has just one Duel win in over four decades and that also came in 2011. In the Daytona 500 though, Logano won in 2015 and Ryan Newman 10 years ago to give them two since 2008. If you include Talladega and the July Daytona race though, Penske has been downright dominant in plate races overall. Brad Keselowski is among the best plate races there are today, but he has zero Speedweeks wins. That could change in 2018. Ryan Blaney is always a good plate racer and Penske’s newest member finished second in the Daytona 500 last year.
Roush/Fenway Racing may have something to say too. Trevor Bayne’s lone Cup victory came in the 2011 Daytona 500 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two of the four plate races in 2017, one of which in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July.
The plate stats are there for the Ford teams heading into this year’s Speedweeks. Can they capitalize on it?