Perhaps I misunderstood what ‘drubbing’ means.
Since Brad Keselowski used the word last November to describe what could possibly await the Ford teams this year, the word has been rattling around in my brain. So convinced and forceful was Keselowski in 2017 about NASCAR parity that I’d spent the entire winter worried for the manufacturer with the oldest body style in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Worried about how behind Ford could be to the second-year Toyota Camry, and the debuting Chevrolet Camaro. We’re going to have less competition this year, I figured.
Three races into the season, Ford Performance has been the manufacturer to beat. Kevin Harvick has driven – sorry, stomped – the competition on his way to victory lane twice, in Atlanta and Las Vegas, and the Fords have dominated all three races. Even when Chevrolet driver Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500, the race was dominated by Ford driver Ryan Blaney.
Let me make sure you have the statistics to back up just how good the entire Ford camp has been. In three races Ford drivers have combined to lead 669 laps. That’s out of the 799 the series has run.
In Daytona, Ford drivers led 146 of 207 laps. It was 272 of 325 in Atlanta. And on Sunday, they combined for 251 of 267 Las Vegas laps. A Ford driver has also earned the most laps led in each of the first three races.
Sounds like anything but a drubbing to me.
“The strengths of the Fords has been nice. Heck yeah. I’m excited about it,” said Joey Logano [below] after finishing seventh at Las Vegas. “There are a lot of things that happened in the off-season that contributes to that, and rule changes that probably contribute to that [too]. I’m proud of the effort that everyone at Ford has been putting into these cars from both the Ford camp and the Team Penske camp.”
Hard as I might try to come up with reasons why it’s too early in the season to read too much into this, I’m pretty sure I’ve run out of logical explanations.
Running well during Speedweeks? No surprise, since the Fords have been the fastest cars on restrictor-plate tracks the last few years. Ryan Blaney led 118 laps in the Daytona 500 [below] and took home the checkered flag in his Can-Am Duel race. That was after Brad Keselowski won the Advance Auto Parts Clash with Ford drivers Logano, Kurt Busch, and Blaney placing second, third, fourth.
Their Atlanta performance where Harvick led a Ford sweep of the podium? Well, Atlanta is an outlier on the schedule with its abrasive surface and slick racing conditions. Plus, we only visit the track once a season, so what can we really learn from what happens there?
Going into Las Vegas, there was some who said judgements shouldn’t be passed until after the west coast swing. By then the series will have competed for a full five weeks and on a variety of tracks – superspeedway (Daytona), mile-and-a-half (Atlanta, Las Vegas), flat one-mile (Phoenix) and a high-speed two-mile oval (Fontana).
But I sided more with those who said Las Vegas would be the first true test of the season. It resembles the traditional cookie-cutter track that makes up a majority of the schedule. Well, Ford passed the test. In addition to Harvick’s domination, Ford placed six cars in the top 10.
As for what has pushed Ford to the front of the field, the best answer might be the optical scanning station, a variable Keselowski mentioned repeatedly during the January media tour. The tool was something he hoped, if implemented fully and correctly, would level the playing field and bring the competition closer together.
The OSS is NASCAR’s new way of battling the team’s creative engineering. By making it harder for tricks to get past them, the hope is it leads to parity on track.
“I don’t think we ever considered ourselves [Ford teams] underdogs,” said Tony Stewart. “I think Roger [Penske] was the one that actually said that, but I think Roger would take that comment back when he sees not only how we’ve run, but how his teams have ran and how much Roush has gained speed this year.
“I haven’t heard as much grumbling with inspection as we’ve heard in the past, and things like that. Last year there were so many things that you’d go through tech, and you’d go through with the same car that you didn’t change, and the numbers were different. From the untrained guy that hasn’t been through the inspection process this year, it just seems like [from] listening to the crew chiefs it’s been a much smoother process.”
Whatever the case may be, the only drubbing going on is by the Ford teams. And I don’t care if it’s only been three weeks or that Toyota and Chevrolet will catch up, because the Fords are fast and the favorites.