Quick, which Ford team is most likely to win a Sprint Cup race any given Sunday? The most likely answer is Penske Racing — but that might change in 2017.
Stewart-Haas Racing leaves Chevrolet for Ford after the 2016 season. Wednesday's surprising announcement is the proverbial sea change in stock-car racing. Paradigm shift, indeed. Mind blowing, for sure.
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Ford success in NASCAR is more potential than reality right now. The iconic American automaker has long been overshadowed by Chevrolet on the track. And in 2015, things got even worse when only two Ford drivers made the Chase for the Sprint Cup and no Ford teams made the final four in the championship race.
Three Chevys chased eventual champion Kyle Busch — who drove a Toyota.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. If the old adage still holds, Ford needs more racing success. Penske Racing with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski provides the blue oval's best opportunity to be first on race day.
There's excitement around Wood Brothers Racing's return to full-time operation as a one-car Ford team. But Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports tend to see more tailpipes than checkered flags.
No more. Ford wants to win.
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"We've been increasing our involvement and our technical support of all of our teams. This is just going to be another addition," Dave Pericak, global director for Ford Performance, said at Wednesday's announcement of the change. Just another addition, however, is an understatement.
"We're not eliminating or reducing support of any of our current teams. We are going to make available to Stewart-Haas the exact same level of support. We're continually increasing that support each and every day. We're in this to win it and we're in this to get back in that winner's circle, so everyone will get the support that they've been getting, and Stewart-Haas will be in addition to that."
Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer, spoke of Stewart-Haas having an "incredibly talented team of drivers and personnel" that is "really going to fit well into what we're trying to do in this sport."
Stewart won't be among those drivers, retiring after this season. But the SHR stable includes former two former Cup champions (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, will include a runnerup (Clint Bowyer) in 2017 and one of NASCAR's most popular drivers (Danica Patrick). For Ford, that's big.
Consider: Ford hasn't seen a Cup champion in its cars since Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in '04, when both drove for Roush. Before that came Dale Jarrett in 1999 and Alan Kulwicki in '92, and Bill Elliott's final championship in 1988.
Chevy has been the dominant brand in NASCAR for decades. Headlined by Hendrick Motorsports, the General Motors nameplate has won nine of 11 Cup titles since Ford's most recent championship. Chevy teams also won for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005, Stewart's third Cup in 2011 and Harvick for Stewart-Haas in 2014.
The others? Keselowski in a Dodge in 2012 and Kyle Busch's groundbreaking victory by Toyota.
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Stewart and fellow team owner Gene Haas talked of their relationship with Chevy and Hendrick, which provided engines and chassis. But they also talked of something every organization craves.
Doesn't matter if you sell cereal or computers, TVs or tanks, plastic ware or porn, being the big dog matters. Motorsports are no different. Ford ceded its dominant place in IndyCar and last won in Formula One in 1982. Now it wants a chance to win in NASCAR again.
Stewart talked of his team's switch to Ford as creating a bright future and great stability. In a sport dependent on sponsorship, stability is huge.
"Racing is a difficult sport that has its ups and downs," Haas said, "and we just feel this is a good decision to help the Stewart-Haas members and all of our employees for the long-term commitment that we seek."
Stability runs second to one thing: first on race day. If Stewart and Haas are right, winning will come. And if nothing else, Ford has told Chevy and Toyota it is no longer taking a back seat in NASCAR.