For the first time in 14 years, those working within the walls at Ford are not hearing the same old question. Or the comments. The criticisms about another season gone by with nothing to show for it.
For the first time in 14 years, the folks at Ford are not hearing about when the last time was that one of their drivers won the NASCAR Cup Series championship. It has been exactly one month since the drought ended courtesy of Joey Logano, when he ascended to the top of the sport with his first championship win.
“The question is a lot easier to answer: When is the last time you won a championship?” Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said. “It is a sigh of relief, but the pressure isn’t gone, because the expectation is to go do it again next year.
“We’re just continuing that momentum. And yes, we’ve enjoyed some celebrations since the checkered flag flew at Homestead, but everybody is back in at full throttle working hard for 2019.”
Kurt Busch had been the last driver to win a title for Ford when he conquered the inaugural playoff format in 2004. It hadn’t been since 2002 that Ford was crowned the manufacturers champion. Accomplishing both feats this past season goes a long way for those who put in the long hours, said Rushbrook. However, the overall success of the Ford racing program (NASCAR; Ford GT; WRC; Mustang GT4) helps even more going into a new year.
In 2018 Ford won the NASCAR driver and manufacturer championships, the IMSA Weathertech GTLM manufacturer championship, the IMSA Continental Tire manufacturers championship, FIA WRC driver championship and the Australian Supercars drivers championship.
“It just builds that confidence [in] everything we’ve been doing, because it goes back four years [ago] to when we made the decision as a company to be more serious, more competitive, to go win races and championships, and it takes time to build all your people and tools to be able to deliver,” Rushbrook said. “And it really came together in 2018 across all the different series. It’s great feedback that we’re doing great things, and we need to keep doing those, again, across all our different programs.
“We need to keep up that momentum, keep up that attention and focus to detail. It’s racing; you can’t rest. You have to keep going.”
In 2019, the Mustang replaces the Fusion, a model that won over 100 races in its 13 years at the Cup level. The new body carries high expectations because the Fusion was dominant in its final year, not only winning the championship, but 19 races, 14 poles and its drivers combining for 5,797 laps led.
Internally, there had actually been a discussion about pumping the brakes on the Mustang because of the Fusion’s strength. However, if Ford officials didn’t think the Mustang was going to be better, it would have stuck with the Fusion.
“But the consensus internally to Ford and with our teams; we’re confident the new Mustang will be better, and it’s the right thing to do, and that’s what we did,” Rushbrook said.
With the decision to move to the Mustang, the workload hasn’t lightened. The development of the car started back in early 2017, and there have been hours upon hours of working with Ford teams, simulation, and running different tests while also accounting for variables like the new rules package and the inspection process.
The car has been built and approved by NASCAR, and Ford teams are now spending the winter stocking their fleet with new cars for a season that is only two months away. At Ford, particularly the Ford Tech Center in Concord, North Carolina, that doesn’t mean there is nothing left to do.
“It’s the same thing that we always do between every race, and definitely between the seasons; we are applying our aerodynamic CFD tool to make sure the teams understand the sensitivities to the different parts of the car to optimize building the car, to get the aero map that they want for the on-track performance that they want,” Rushbrook said.
“So, our simulation engineers are engaged with the teams, the ones that sit in this building, visiting the team’s shops. The aerodynamic engineers that we have embedded in the racing teams, they’re rolling their sleeves up and making sure the aerodynamics are optimized to go, especially with a new body and new rules together.”
Only this time around, it’s with a new championship trophy in the display case.