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Pedley: Fords Are Smokin’ Again

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010

Good times are back again for Ford in NASCAR. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Jamie Allison was way too upbeat as we stood in the back of the media center at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a month ago. The head of Ford Racing, Allison was sporting a game-show host attitude at a time when his NASCAR operation was looking quite ordinary.

Was he laughing to keep from crying or was he genuinely confident that good times were getting ready to roll once again? With over-sized dark glasses covering half his face, it was tough to tell.

Today, I’m leaning toward the latter explanation for the upbeat mood. Ford, it appears, has solved its problems and is once again race-for-victories competitive.

Two days after the media center chat, Biffle finished third in the Brickyard 400 and five other Ford drivers finished in the top 15 of that high-horsepower race.

The weeks after Indy, at Pocono, Biffle gave Ford its first victory of the season while Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards was third.

The surge in fortune continued right up through last Sunday’s Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway where Edwards, Biffle and another Roush teammate, Matt Kenseth, were third, fourth and fifth respectively. Biffle led a race-best 66 laps.

Barring catastrophy, it appears all three of those drivers will be in the Chase: With just three races to go before the start of the playoff, all are 193 points or more to the good in the standings.

Five races ago, Kenseth, in the depths of frustration, uttered some negative comments about what was going on at Ford and Roush that bordered on insubordination. Now, the Roush guys are talking Sprint Cup championship.

“It’s wild how much things have changed in a short amount of time,” Edwards said last week. “I don’t want to jinx it, but it feels like it’s headed in the right direction.  We’re fast.  We’ve got four races until the Chase and if we can perform at the level we’ve performed the last four races, we can make the Chase and if we can get any better, we can win the championship.  Two or three months ago, I was hopeful we’d be in this position, but I did not think we would be, so it feels good.  It’s been a fun ride the last month or so.”

So, what’s up with all this? Is it the new engine? Is it better use of simulation technology? Is it better setups?

“It’s been all of those,” Biffle said prior to the Michigan race. “We feel like we’ve got a front suspension geometry or model that’s running much better now, thanks to some help from the RPM (Richard Petty Motorsports) guys and help from some of our Roush Fenway guys.  They’re really working well together.  That’s helped us.

“The FR9 is in full swing. We’ve had a few issues, but they’ve gone to the drawing board and really got those worked out. The engine is running good. We have a little history with it now. We know a little bit about it and our cars have gotten better and our simulation is getting better as far as how the cars are racing and driving, so I think you’re gonna see us run well, I really do.  We ran well at a similar race track in Chicago, and then Indy is not so much the same, but we ran well there, so I think we’ll run well here.”

Edwards has an average finish of under 4.something in his last five races. He had the fastest car on the track at the end of the MIS race and, had the race been 405 miles, he might have won.

Is he good enough, then, to get his first championship once the points are reset for the Chase?

“If you can pick up one-tenth of a second, you run fifth sometimes, so I feel like we’ve just found that one-tenth that we’ve been looking for,” he said after Sunday’s race. “If we can find one more, it would be on then.”

And Allison? There would not be a pair of sunglasses anywhere big enough to conceal his thoughts.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010
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