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Michigan Actually Is A Big Race For Ford This Time

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 16 2013

There is a lot riding with Ford drivers today at Michigan. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

You can count on it. In fact, it occurs with such regularly that it has become a eye-rolling cliche:  Every time the Sprint Cup series arrives at Michigan International Speedway, somebody in the media will ask Ford drivers in general and Roush Fenway Racing drivers specifically about the importance of doing well in Brooklyn.

Just like clockwork, it was asked again Friday morning.

This time around, however, there is some meat on that barest of bones of a throw-in question. Because this time around, Michigan is a more-than-normally important stop on the Cup schedule.

Ford teams have been having relatively stinko seasons. Through the first 14 races of the season, Fords have been, by far, faring worst among the three marques. Fords have won just twice – compared to seven times by Chevrolet and five by Toyota.

And its not just the victory column that’s embarrassing Ford teams and drivers. In the top-10-finishes department, Ford is again ranked third out of the three marques. Hated Chevy leads with 66 top-10s while Ford has just 36.

The hope for this season was the at the addition of Penske Racing to the Ford mix would float all boats to championship levels and so far it has not.

No, it’s not just Jack Roush’s  and Ford’s pride on the line this weekend as the Cup series hits the track located 100 miles or so west of Dearborn. It could be the 2013 season. Today at the 2-mile MIS oval, Ford teams, drivers and followers could find out if slight gains in recent weeks are a trend or a burp.

While nobody wearing a blue oval on their shirt is really panicking about the way things have gone for Ford Racing’s Cup effort this year, there is concern.

Enough concern that the top man at Ford Racing, Jamie Allison, scheduled a press conference this week – a press conference that was dominated by questions of; what’s wrong? And enough that the two top Ford teams – Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing – have both discussed the need to work more closely together.

After winning the pole for today’s race on Friday, RFR driver Carl Edwards – who, sitting second in points, is the brightest spot for Ford in 2013 – talked about the internal talk.

“One week ago we talked about at Roush Fenway things we needed to do better as a group and working with the folks at Penske and we just started this ball rolling,” Edwards said. “We just talked yesterday about it up at Ford World Headquarters. This is one lap and it is good. I am really happy. The process that is going to put us out in front of Hendrick Motorsports and the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing and the rest of these guys every Sunday, that process is just starting.

“We can use this, these positive things like pole position and hopefully a win and Greg’s run last week, we can use these things to move forward and gain faith in a better process and I think that is going to be great. The engine is a big part of it and today the engine group came through huge. You can’t hide a bad engine out there on that racetrack. That is a big racetrack where big power means something and same thing with the aero program. We have to keep moving forward but that is cool. There is not a faster car in the place than our car today and that is a big deal.”

Fast on Friday is not the primary goal in Dearborn or North Carolina. Edwards certainly knows that.

“The first couple of laps in practice today were the most competitive first few laps of practice I have had in a long time at a big racetrack,” he said. “I think that is good. But you just never know. Until the race starts you really don’t know what you’ve got.”

While today’s race probably does not represent THE key point of the season, it does represent a key point. Ford and its folks can come back out of the tunnel late this afternoon at MIS with continued momentum or a sense of; where to from here?

Because Ford is thowing everything it currently has at its “hometown” track today.

Said Allison, “Michigan is one of those days that we all circle on our calendar for a variety of reasons, the first of which is it is our hometown. Going to race in our hometown and having the pride of our employees, the pride of our fans and the pride of our teams with Roush (Fenway Racing) and now Penske (Racing) being based right here in Michigan, certainly it’s a pride thing. The pride of our employees, teams and fans.”

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 16 2013
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