Ford Performance placed five cars in the top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, including a sweep of the top three spots. But there was a conservative attitude coming from some of those within the Ford camp post-race regardless what it means for the season.
Ford is, after all, running the oldest body of the three manufacturers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and Brad Keselowski has been very outspoken about how far behind the group is to rivals Toyota and Chevrolet.
“Well, it’s clear the Fords have an unfair advantage,” Denny Hamlin deadpanned in the media center Sunday night. Hamlin was sitting next to Keselowski and smiled as he took a playful jab at the Team Penske driver for making the same reference last year about Toyota.
Toyota rolled out a new body last season. Chevrolet debuted theirs this month at Daytona.
Clint Bowyer, who finished third at Atlanta in Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ford, said seeing another manufacturer bring out a new car “makes you a little bit nervous” over the offseason. However, SHR showed no signs of being behind the curve as it placed three of its four cars in the top 10. All four qualified in the top 11.
“So far, so good,” said Bowyer. “We’re as good as anybody, obviously.”
However, Atlanta is an outlier on the calendar, as Team Penske’s Joey Logano pointed out. While it is a 1.5-mile track – the configuration that forms the bread and butter of the schedule – Atlanta’s abrasive surface and slippery race conditions are unique.
“I think next weekend [Las Vegas] really shows where your mile-and-a-half speed is at,” said Logano. “Yeah, it’s [Atlanta] a mile-and-a-half, but it’s not really like the mile-and-a-half that we’re used to; so next week will be the true test to see where we’re at, but like I said, this is a decent start to the season.”
Following the Las Vegas 1.5-miler is the one-mile Phoenix and two-mile Auto Club Speedway. In April, the series will visit another high-speed mile-and-a-half in Texas Motor Speedway and then there is two back-to-back in May with Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.