The question came quickly after Ford revealed its Mustang model for Cup competition Thursday: How would Ford avoid the slow starts that resulted from NASCAR’s previous model changes for Toyota in 2017 and Chevrolet this year?
After Toyota went to the new Camry model last year, Joe Gibbs Racing failed to visit Victory Lane in the first 18 races. Meanwhile, eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. won three times in that span in his Toyota. JGR ultimately won eight races in 2017.
“I don’t think with either of those two cases it’s been the car,” Brad Keselowski said after the Mustang announcement at Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. “I think there’s been other issues. That’s the thing about this sport. The car is super important but it’s not the only piece. You have the weekend execution, you have the driver piece, the pit crew piece. All those things have to come together and I don’t think in those two scenarios it was the car that held them back. I don’t think it will for us either.”
The Team Penske driver said Ford has learned “a lot” from what Toyota and Chevy went through.
“I think you learn as much from how others have done it as you learn from NASCAR and how they go about the process … and learn where the opportunities are,” Keselowski said.
Any misgivings Kevin Harvick has about the new model are tempered by what Stewart-Haas Racing experienced in 2017 when it switched to Ford from Chevy.
“I think the strongest part of our company is the aero side of things,” Harvick said. “In my opinion, switching from one manufacturer to another is way more challenging. Having all the teams and the people involved in the process of designing the car obviously gives you some characteristics of how the car works, what it likes, what it doesn’t like and things like that.
“As a team and as a group, Ford wouldn’t be making a change if we didn’t think there was more potential to be better.”
“I don’t have any reservations about it,” said SHR co-owner Tony Stewart about the move to the Mustang.
One question that hasn’t been answered is what rules package Cup teams will have next year.
“I think it would be foolish for me to stand here and say I’m 100 percent certain it’s going to go well, because you never know where things are going to be and apparently don’t know where there rules are going to be,” Harvick said.
NASCAR sent a proposed rules package to teams last week. Teams are reviewing it and then will get back with officials to discuss.
NASCAR has stated that it plans to use a package similar to the one used in the All-Star Race next year. The All-Star package included a restrictor plate, air ducts, a taller spoiler and the 2014 style splitter.
In the rules package sent to teams it included horsepower targets based on open throttle time and what plate sizes would be needed.
People who saw the rules proposal last week told NBC Sports it didn’t state how many races it would be used in.
“If we end up going with the All-Star package, it’s a real dart board,” Keselowski said. “Because none of the cars have been tested under that configuration. I have no idea how we’ll be competitively. But if we go or stick with a package similar to what we have right now, I expect this race car to be extremely competitive and a pretty big advancement from where we’re at right now with the Fusion.”
Of the wait for the package to be confirmed, Stewart said “It’s always been that way.
“You act like this is something new. This is their MO. This is not something we’re not used to.”
Dustin Long and Nate Ryan contributed to this report