Believe it or not, there was a day when the average NASCAR fan could go to a race and easily pick out the individual makes of cars that were on the track. In recent years, NASCAR has taken much of the individuality out of the different makes in an attempt to not only make policing the sport easier, but to also ensure that the so-called playing field remains level for every make of car.
There are some difference in both the front and rear end of the cars, but it’s beginning to look like this season that the biggest difference among the manufacturers may lie beneath the hood. This past Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway Roush Yates Engines supplied the horsepower for five of the top-seven finishers in the Samsung 500, including Roush Fenway driver Matt Kenseth who won his first race of the season.
The engine, which is known as the Ford FR9, was first used in the Sprint Cup Series last season but its introduction was a slow process as not all Ford teams immediately made the switch to the newer model. When the 2011 season got underway, every team that campaigned a Ford did so with the new FR9 under its hood. That included the four teams of Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports’ two teams, the Wood Brothers’s entry along with Front Row Motorsports and TRG Motorsports.
The Ford lineup of teams with its new FR9 engine wasted very little time this season showing the rest of the sport that it was going to be racing not only for wins but was going to be making a series bid to break the hold that Jimmie Johnson now has on the title. Trevor Bayne driving for the Wood Brothers shocked the world when he took his Ford to victory lane in the season-opening Daytona 500, but as it turned out, that was only a prelude of what is now taking place.
Two races later, Carl Edwards drove his Roush Fenway Ford to victory lane at Las Vegas that, like Texas, is a mile-and-a-half track. In all, Ford has notched three wins in the first seven races of the season but the significance of that number lies in the fact that two of those wins came on the mile-anda half tracks of Vegas and Texas.
The Sprint Cup Series schedule is loaded with mile-and-a-half racetracks and if any team harbors any thoughts of winning the title they must have success at these tracks. Joining Vegas and Texas in this category of tracks are Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas, Kentucky and Miami. Together these tracks host a total of 11 races, which is almost a third of the 36- race schedule.
Ford’s early season success is also showing up in the point standings going into this weekend’s race at Talladega. Carl Edwards has a nine-point lead over Toyota driver Kyle Busch with Kenseth on the strength of his Texas win, moving up six spots to the third position, 13 points out of first.
Chevrolet holds down six of the top-10 positions with Toyota and Dodge each placing one team on the elite list of 10. Each manufacturer has also made at least one trip to victory lane. Chevrolet, on the strength of two Kevin Harvick victories, has three wins with Toyota and Dodge both taking one checkered flag.
With every manufacturer making at least one trip to victory lane and only one driver to post more than one win, the season is shaping up as one that is up for grabs. It could be that the difference maker this season lies under the hood, the hood of the Fords that is. It will be interesting to watch especially at the mile-and-a-half tracks if the early season success of Ford’s FR9 continues to hold up. If that success does hold up, then Ford may have the advantage going into the Chase as half of the 10 races are held on the mile-and-a-half tracks.
Race Preview Event: Aaron’s 499 Track: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: April 17, 1 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champ: Kevin Harvick