A manufacturer switching to a new model often brings trials and tribulations as teams sort through the quirks that arise during the acclimation process. Rarely does a manufacturer come out of the gate strong, seemingly having perfected with aplomb the changeover to new body style.
And yet, here Ford is six races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season having already won three times with its new Mustang. Giving little indication that the manufacturer lost any of the performance it flexed last season when Ford drivers, behind the wheel of Fusions, combined to win 19 of 36 races and Ford collected its first manufacturer championship since 2002.
Leading Ford’s charge through the early portion of the season are Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Keselowski drove the Mustang to its first-ever victory Feb. 24 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with Joey Logano following with a win the next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And Keselowski delivered another victory in a dominate performance last week at Martinsville Speedway, leading 446 of a possible 500 laps. (Toyota-supported Joe Gibbs Racing has won the other three races.)
“I think it takes a lot to win at this level and a lot of things have to come together,” Keselowski said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “If I was to look at a few key points, I would say one of them is from Ford Motor Company and the efforts that they’ve put in.
“They made a couple really nice moves over the last two or three years that probably culminated when they were in a better position to roll out the Mustang than they would have been elsewise to where the Mustang came out, and I don’t think we missed a step. I think we probably took a step forward with the Mustang.”
Though Team Penske is the lone Ford-backed team to thus far win this season, other organizations within the Ford camp have also been strong. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick is third in the series standings, teammate Aric Almirola is sixth, and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse is 12th. And while it may be early, Ford drivers provisionally hold eight of the 16 Playoff berths.
Stenhouse’s position in the standings is especially indicative of the speed Ford has brought not just to Team Penske and SHR, which have collectively carried the Ford banner for the past three seasons, but how the new Mustang body style has seemingly lifted every Ford team. Stenhouse says Roush has notably lacked speed in recent years on intermediate-sized tracks like the 1.5-mile Texas oval, but that has changed this season. Once a weakness is now becoming a strength.
“For us, the mile-and-a-half program is something that we look forward to right now,” Stenhouse said. “I would say over the last four or five years we kind of dreaded going to the mile-and-a-halves; we were just OK. We weren’t great and right now I think our cars are good and they’re strong and fast on the mile-and-a-halves if we don’t make mistakes or put ourselves in a bad spot.”
And that multiple Ford teams are finding success with the Mustang isn’t lost on the driver who’s already got two wins to his credit in 2019. It was all part of the master plan.
“Some strong decisions made by Ford Motor Company that have kind of been high tides for all ships,” Keselowski said. “If I was to look at anything, I would say that’s probably the biggest factor and it’s come together this year with the new car and the rules changes.”