NASCAR Cup Series

Despite first win of the season on Sunday, Fords aren’t doing much better in 2024 | Zier

Despite first win of the season on Sunday, Fords aren't doing much better in 2024 | Zier

Unless you follow NASCAR, you’ve probably never heard of Joey Logano. That’s OK though, because I’m going to fill you in.

Logano drives Fords for one of NASCAR’s top teams, Penske Racing. And he’s pretty good. Not the very best, but pretty good. If he were playing baseball, for example, he wouldn’t be Mike Trout. He might be Yandy Diaz.

Last year, Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series championship. Not because he was the best driver in the sport — that was clearly Kyle Larson — but because the NASCAR point system is not designed to determine a true champion. Its aim has always been to keep as many drivers in the hunt for as long as possible.

In fact, you can make a strong case that at least in 2023, Logano wasn’t even the best driver on his team — that would be Ryan Blaney — let alone in all of stock car racing. But Logano will take it. So will Penske. And so will Ford, which spent most of 2023 being savaged by its competitors, Chevy and Toyota.

Outside of the superspeedways, Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta, where Ford won three of the six races and where anybody can win if you avoid the big wreck and are in the right lane at the right time on the last lap, Ford pretty much struggled.

RFK’s Brad Keselowski got Ford’s first win of the year Sunday at Darlington. But Fords have been struggling this year.

That was especially true of Stewart-Haas Racing, once an elite Ford team but now seemingly on the verge of collapse. While Logano’s championship and some good runs by Blaney and Chris Buescher, of the somewhat forgotten RFK team, tended to gloss it over, up in Detroit, Ford Performance knew there were problems.

Because if you’re trying to determine who’s competitive and who’s not, you really have to throw the superspeedway races out. And while NASCAR obviously has to count them, The Ledger doesn’t. And using The Ledger’s system, Blaney was Ford’s top driver with 311 points. That put him eighth, well behind leader Larson with 643.

So NASCAR gave Ford some leeway to make changes this year. Not much, because NASCAR wants all the cars to be the same, but some. Ford rounded off the front bumper and then, in a major move, had the hood slope between the tops of the front fenders. The idea was to channel air up the sloping hood and around the side of the car, making the air flow smoother to help the car turn.

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It was a great idea. There was only one thing wrong with it. It didn’t work. Kevin Harvick, retired now but with Stewart-Haas last year, said the problem in 2023 was that the cars were tight going into the corner, meaning they wanted to head into the wall and lost speed, were tight in traffic and wouldn’t change direction, making it difficult to pass because the car doesn’t want to turn down. And, he added, they still are.

Of all the teams affected by this, Stewart-Haas has been hurt the most. Its contract with Ford is up at the end of the year, it has been losing corporate sponsors, and Tony Stewart, in charge of the competitive end, and Gene Haas, the money man, have other interests that seem to be taking away from the stock car operation. Additionally, Stewart-Haas is quietly shopping around at least two of its four franchises, which would drop it from four to two teams.

Patrick Zier

The Ledger point index offers a window into Stewart-Haas’ — and Ford’s — problem. Last year at this time, Stewart-Haas’ four cars had 117 points. This year, heading into this weekend’s all-star race, Stewart-Haas has a measly 44 points. Only one Ford team, the RFK entry, has things figured out.

RFK’s Brad Keselowski got Ford’s first win of the year Sunday at Darlington, and he and his teammate, Buescher, have 242 points. That’s nearly double the other two factory teams, Penske with 111 and Stewart-Haas with 44.

After watching the Fords struggle, Harvick summed up their plight.

“I would be alarmed if I was still in the Ford camp,” he said.

Guess what? They are.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Ford cars are still having trouble with performance in 2024

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