Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ford engines are new leaders in NASCAR

After years of domination by Chevrolet teams, the Ford group has come back with the best start to its season since all five Roush cars made the Chase in 2005.

The Ford camp made this abundantly clear during the past two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway where Fords led a combined 319 of the 502 laps run in the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.

Plus, the teams that have dominated the past five years or so had troubles of their own Sunday night. Two favorites to win the Coca-Cola 600, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson, blew engines.

While they were both driving Chevrolets, they aren’t on the same team and have different engines. McMurray had an Earnhardt-Childress engine under the hood while Jimmie Johnson had a Hendrick engine.

It might not be terribly surprising the Fords have finally come back to the front of the field on tracks where horsepower and aerodynamics are important, but it is surprising to see the failures from the Chevrolets.

The Earnhardt-Childress engines won nine races last season, including all four of the restrictor-plate races, and all of those wins came on tracks that were at least one mile in length.

Hendrick engines also won nine races last season, with Johnson bringing home six of those wins.

The #48 car has been the gold standard in the Sprint Cup Series nearly since it was formed in 2002. The Lowe’s Chevrolet simply never breaks down, but it did Sunday night.

Are we seeing a changing of the guard? Possibly. The #48 team doesn’t always have a great first half of the season, and it likely will be in contention for the championship late into the Chase, if not all the way to Homestead again, but an engine problem combined with the resurgence of Roush-Fenway Racing has the path to a sixth championship a bit more cluttered.

The other aspect to this issue is the Ford engines. The FR9 engine has been in development for several years, and it just started running full time last season. However, the teams running the new engine are reaping the benefits in 2011.

NASCAR recently took an engine from each manufacturer and found they all make similar power. So, where does the Fords’ advantage come from? Maybe it has to do with more than raw horsepower. One feature of the new Ford engine was that it had a lower center of gravity and ran cooler than the old engine.

These factors help with the overall setup of the car just as much as the power to move the car forward. It’s great to have a fast car down the straightaways, but it doesn’t do much good if the car won’t turn in the corners.

So, the teams can use a lower center of gravity to help the car turn in the corners and a lower water temperature allows the team to run more tape on the grill, which gives the car more downforce.

Maybe it’s not so much the Fords all of a sudden have more power than everybody else; maybe they just have the ability to use that power more effectively.

In any case, the Fords are as strong right now as they have been in a long time, and they could hold this advantage for a while as other teams adjust to try and keep up.


  1. Interesting points about Ford's new engine helping out on handling. I wouldn't say that two blown Chevy engines in a 600 mile race are a trend, yet.

    Any make that got out front at CMS after a restart was long gone. While dominate cars like the 99, 17, and 18 could not pass in traffic when they were stuck in mid-pack.

    It certainly is good for the sport to have the Fords in the mix. last year was a sorry year for RFR. Jack never whined about their lack of success last season, so we had to know he was cooking something up.

  2. Gene - Definitely. It looks like the Roush-Fenway Racing is following the same path as Richard Childress Racing did last season. They started to have some good runs late in the previous season and built on that momentum the following year.

  3. Just heard Dodge's new engine got approved and it rivals the improvements of the Fords - runs cooler, is lighter etc so they can move the weight around to better spots to help the car turn. We shall see!

  4. Get rid of the dam Goodyear tires and then you'll have a race. It's pretty bad that Nascar had to tell all the drivers to not say anything bad about Goodyear. Who's in bed with who ?