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Ford Teams Step Up To Plates With New Engines

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 23 2010

Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards will have the new Ford engines under their hoods this weekend at Talladega. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The restrictor plate version of Ford Racing’s FR9 engine will be available to all Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend.

Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 will be the first points race in which a majority of Ford Fusions will have access to the FR9. Ford teams ran the engine in practice, qualifying and the Gatorade Duels during Speedweeks at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway in February. But only Bill Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler ran the engine during the season-opening Daytona 500, with Kenseth posting an eighth-place finish.

“It’s really the first across-the-board running for the FR9,” said David Simon, Ford Racing engineer who led development of the engine. “We ran them at Daytona, of course, in the Shootout across-the-board, but this is really the first full race for it as the primary engine for us.”

Roush Fenway’s driver lineup includes Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and David Ragan. RPM’s lineup features Sadler, lame duck Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard.

Introduced in January 2009 under the code-name “FR9,” the engine is the first purpose-built NASCAR powerplant from Ford Motor Company. Its design has been overseen by Simon and engine-builder Doug Yates of Roush Yates Engines, with input from engineer Mose Nowland of Ford Racing. With the exception of a few cylinder head changes through the years, Ford has competed with the same basic V-8 engine package since 1991.

“We’ve gone through the validation process on the plate package, so, at this point, we’re ready to race the FR9 full-time in restrictor plate form,” Simon said. “We’re going through the same process on the open engine. We ran it in the No. 21 car at Texas (with Elliott) and we’ll be running it in the No. 43 car (with Allmendinger) at Darlington, and then at the All-Star Race we’ll have them in all the cars there as well.”

The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is scheduled for May 8. The non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is booked for May 22.

Elliott qualified 36th and finished 25th – three laps down to winner Denny Hamlin – in Monday’s rain-delayed Samsung Mobile 500 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth . It was Elliott’s third start of the season in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford fielded by the Wood Brothers.

“In the second half of the season, as the validation process gets completed, the FR9 will become the primary race engine for us in the open and plate races,” said Simon, noting that the implementation process is on-schedule. “We’re not frustrated by it because we have a plan and we laid that plan out long ago last year on how to roll the engine out.

“In that respect, we’re really satisfied with the way the FR9 is getting rolled out. At the same time, we know people are anxious for it, so I guess that’s a good thing. People do want to see it out there racing and there’s a lot of money and resources invested in it, so we’re anxious to get it out on the track, too. But we’re on-schedule and not frustrated.”

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, currently is Ford’s top driver – second in series points to four-time/reigning champ Jimmie Johnson heading into practice today at the high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega layout. Kenseth trails Johnson by 108 points.

Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford, won the second Gatorade Duel at DIS. That remains Ford’s only visit to Victory Lane in a Cup race during a 2010 season that has seen Chevrolets win five of eight races. Johnson has three of Chevy’s wins in the No. 48 Lowe’s Impala fielded by Hendrick Motorsports.

Hamlin has a pair of victories in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, including Monday at TMS. And Kurt Busch has a Cup victory for Dodge in the No. 2 Miller Lite Charger fielded by Penske Racing.

At TMS, Edwards was asked if he thought the FR9 would be the cure-all for Ford’s winless season. “That’s a good question,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Fusion. “I don’t believe the engine is going to be the thing that makes everything right and we win one out of four races or something like that. I believe that’s a step, but there are other parts of the car that are getting better. We’re running better now than we were a year ago, and I’m proud to be driving a Ford.

“If I look at what’s going on in the world, Ford is in a really good position, I believe, and Roush Fenway is in a really good position because of that, to go out and build something very strong so that we can get back to the way we were in 2003, ’04, ’05, ’07, ’08 _ those years where we really ran well. Yeah, we’ve had a year-and-a-half that’s been very frustrating, but I’m hoping it’s just that – just a short period of time. The engine will help a little bit, but it’s the whole package. It takes a lot.”

Edwards is working on a 44-race winless streak dating to the 2008 season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion and fan favorite, has run the FR9 engine three times this season, with a best finish of 16th at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. Elliott also logged one lap-led at AMS.

“It’s been a great help that the Wood Brothers have been able to run it all year,” Simon said. “They’ve been a great asset for us in that respect, so the validation process is going well. We do a lot of work back at the engine shop, so typically we’ll catch anything that might go wrong back there when we do our durability testing.  So the stuff that’s gone to the track we’ve been pretty happy with. And so far, we haven’t had any issues in the open races with that package. Barring any hiccups here in the next couple of months, we’ll be racing it pretty much the second half of the season.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 23 2010