NASCAR has always taken great pride in its ability to govern the sport of Sprint Cup racing in such a way that the playing field is always level for the four manufacturers that field cars in the series. The history of the sport tells us that every make of car has had its hot streak where it seems to be unbeatable on race day, but when you look at the bigger picture, the competition between manufacturers is always very close.
Since NASCAR made the switch to the Chase as its way of determining its champion, it’s all about being in the top 12 in points, and that goes for both driver and manufacturer if either wants the opportunity to win the title. Only 11 races now remain before the field for the Chase is set, and it could be that one of the biggest factors in determining which drivers make it into the playoff round is the make of car they drive.
Besides looking at the manufacturers that make up the top 12 at the present time, another quick way to see which make of car is enjoying success in the sport is to look at the first 15 winners of the season. Toyota and Chevrolet entered Sunday’s race at Michigan with six victories each, but Denny Hamlin’s win in a Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing moved the Japanese automaker into sole possession of first place. That leaves only two wins, and the Dodge of Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch owns both of those.
Now that leaves Ford without any wins on the season, but all of that could be getting ready to change as Kasey Kahne, driving Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Ford, finished a very strong second at Michigan. Fords have been chasing the rest of the field the entire season, but according to Kahne the distance between Ford and the rest of the field may be starting to shrink.
Kahne gives the credit for his good run to the new power plant under the hood that the Ford teams are all now starting to use. The FR9 Ford engine was used for the first time Sunday by all nine Ford teams, and the manufacturer was rewarded with four Fords finishing in the top 12.
Even though Ford has not made it to victory lane this season, it is still in the hunt for the championship as it has three teams in the top 12. That is actually the second most of any manufacturer, as Chevrolet leads all makes with six teams in the Chase field at the present time. Toyota may lead the series in number of wins, but only Hamlin and his JGR teammate Kyle Busch have their Camrys in the Chase field. The only Dodge in the field belongs to Kurt Bush.
As you can see, the list of winners and the top 12 in points off er a somewhat diff erent view of what it takes to be successful in the sport. Consistency still plays a big part in which drivers makes it into the playoff round of the final 10 races of the season. Ford has proved that as there are still three blue oval drivers without a win inside the top 12 with a great chance of having the opportunity to run for the title.
It could be that all the Ford teams need to start showing up in victory lane is the added power that the new FR9 engine is producing. Winning is not a prerequisite for making the Chase, but it is important to remember that all of those wins during the first 26 races of the season gives a driver 10 extra bonus points to start the Chase. Denny Hamlin’s win on Sunday was his fourth of the season, which leads the series and will give him 40 bonus points to begin the Chase.
It is not impossible to win the title without ever winning a race, but making the Chase without a win makes the path to the title more difficult. Roush-Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards are the three Ford drivers in the top 12, but for them to have a realistic chance of ending up as the champion, they need to start winning races now.
The saga of where and who Kasey Kahne will be driving for next season continues with the latest finding him with a one-year contract to drive the #09 for James Finch. Finch has been competing at the Cup level for several seasons and posted a win last season with Brad Keselowski at Talladega. In 2012, Kahne will be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in the car now being driven by Mark Martin.
Race Preview — Event: Toyota/ Save Mart 350. Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile road course, 10 turns). Date: June 20, 3 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kasey Kahne.