Ford Performance

Joe Gibbs Racing among serious bidders to build Next Gen chassis

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – When NASCAR initially set a 2021 deadline for launching its NextGen car, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson was skeptical of the timeframe.

Nearly a year later, he believes NASCAR’s overhaul is on track for next season, but he still has reservations about the aggressive rollout of a project that he compares with one of the most ambitious undertakings of the 20th century.

“We need another year, really,” Wilson told NBCSports.com last week about the release of the new car. “Because here’s my concern: We can’t afford to get this wrong. But the analogy is when NASA is doing a moon shot or rocket launch, that’s pretty well thought out, and they’re not afraid to pull the date back. What we’re doing in a relative sense feels like the same thing.

“There’s going to be more change in a year than this sport has seen in the past 60 years combined. Cumulative. It’s a revolutionary change. We as an industry need to get this right.”

During his annual address of the news media Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps reaffirmed multiple times that the Next Gen is on pace for a 2021 debut.

A prototype of the car recently made its debut at Richmond Raceway with Austin Dillon (whose Richard Childress Racing team worked with NASCAR to build the prototype), but Cup teams likely won’t take delivery on a real-world version to test until next July.

Using a Request For Proposal-type process, NASCAR is soliciting bids on suppliers for the various stock elements that the new car will have, principally the chassis (in a structure that will resemble how Dallara supplies IndyCar teams with a standard chassis).

“The car is on schedule,” Phelps said. “I have to give a shoutout to, again, really the entire industry because they’re working collaboratively.  NASCAR runs the process, but there are teams that are involved, (manufacturers) that are involved, and that’s how we’re going to be successful moving forward.”

Multiple people familiar with the Next Gen process but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly told NBCSports.com that there are at least three companies being considered seriously to build the chassis.

That list includes Joe Gibbs Racing, which is one of multiple Cup teams that inquired about bidding on the chassis.

It isn’t unusual for a Cup team to build chassis for others (such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and JGR) have counted rivals as clients. But it would be new to have a single team that builds chassis for the entire field.

Phelps mostly demurred when asked by NBCSports.com how NASCAR would handle that arrangement.

“With respect to those that are in the RFPs to build the car, I don’t want to get into specifics about where that is,” Phelps said. “There would obviously need to be a separation between that race team and whatever part or the vehicle itself that’s being put together.

“If there is a team that is interested in competing for what that’s going to be, it would have to be kind of removed from what that organization is.”

Wilson said TRD favors Cup teams getting involved in the business of building the new car because of their familiarity with the output.

“It’s kind of polarizing because of the perceived advantage for the team that’s supplying, but the reason I say that it works to our favor is because nobody understands like a team does what it means to make a quality part,” he said.

Goodyear’s move from a 15- to 18-inch wheel with the new car also will need to be factored into the timeline of the rollout. Goodyear’s Greg Stucker said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR’s The Morning Drive that it’ll be a “significant change,” but that the tire supplier is on schedule with NASCAR and teams.

Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook said nearly 10 months ago that he was optimistic about having the new car by 2021 and reiterated his enthusiasm in a Saturday news conference with manufacturer executives hosted by NASCAR.

“It’s a very exciting time for NASCAR,” Rushbrook said. “To see all the technology and architecture changes that are going into Next Gen, it’s had a very successful test already. I think the fans are going to be excited once they see the final versions of the car. And then leading beyond ’21 to further technology with hybrid I think is important for all of us as manufacturers.”

The commonality of the new car should eliminate the assembly lines that many teams have and result in cost savings (in part by trimming staff). That theoretically should lower the barrier of entry to NASCAR for new teams and manufacturers (NASCAR courted a prospective automaker two weeks ago in Phoenix, according to Phelps).

Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America, said the cost reductions were “overdue and had to happen, so one way or another there needs to be new blood brought into the sport, new team ownership brought into the sport, and this is the way that it’s going to happen. I think the vision of (NASCAR chairman) Jim France and of NASCAR right now was very, very appropriate.”

The new car also will enhance showroom relevance with the addition of independent rear suspension.

“When you see the proportions of this car, it fits the production vehicle even better, particularly in the rear,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “It matches up to where the Camaro is, and we’re really quite excited about that. Finally, we’ve got symmetry between left‑ and right‑hand side. We needed that so it looks more like the street car.  We’ll have a wheel that really mirrors a little bit closer to what you see on the production side in terms of size.”

Phelps said NASCAR has another test of the new car in a few weeks, and Toyota had a Next Gen body in a wind tunnel last week for the second time.

“I handicapped the possibility of racing in ’21 (with the Next Gen car) as a very slim chance,” Wilson said. “I have to eat a little crow. It is on the calendar as they laid out. On paper, it certainly looks like ’21, and certainly Jim France has not given one inch to hedging that.

“I will say that everything has to go to that schedule. There’s no margin for slipping.”

Wilson also believes there needs to be more than one vendor available for some parts to safeguard against unforeseen emergencies and faulty manufacturing.

“I was talking to Steve O’Donnell and Jim France at Charlotte just kind of cautioning them relative to the slippery slope that you have with a single-source supplier,” Wilson said. “Anecdotally, we used to have one valve-spring supplier, and that bit us in the butt. Now we have two. The issue there is very pragmatic, in case say you have a fire that takes out your factory. But the other side is you have a bad batch of material or something that puts you in a tough spot, and you don’t have a backup.

“So just suggesting that they use some, not common sense per se, but that they think about contingencies relative to the supply of parts and pieces.”

Wilson also believes a backup is needed for keeping the 2020 cars in place just in case NASCAR is unable to hit the 2021 target.

But he added the financial straits that many teams are facing have made the ’21 deadline a necessary reality for the NASCAR industry.

“We all know there are teams on the precipice of failing. So there is a lot of pressure,” Wilson said. “We appreciate and respect that there are parts of our sport that are in trouble.

“The team ownership model is nuts. So it’s not that we shouldn’t be attempting (the Next Gen in ’21). But we just need to get it right. If we can’t — hand on heart — make that target in ’21, we need to be prepared with a contingency plan.”

Chase Briscoe explains why he’s ‘racing for my life’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Hours after he failed to defend his 2018 Xfinity Series win on the Charlotte Roval, Chase Briscoe posted a tweet saying he’s “racing for my life and trying to prove I deserve to be here.”

That sentiment comes even though the 24-year-old racer has two to three years left on his contract with Ford, which began in 2017.

“It’s still performance based,” Briscoe told NBC Sports Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a day after his ninth-place finish on the Roval. “I have to go win races and run up front. (Saturday) was a perfect opportunity to win a race. That was one of the best cars we’ve had all year-long. So (we) were in contention all day long, so trying to take advantage of that, that’s what I was trying to do is win a race.

“Last year winning this race is what catapulted me to being full-time at Stewart-Haas. So if I could do that this year, I feel like it would just up my odds for next year going racing.”

Added Briscoe: “I want to show Ford they made the right decision on taking a risk with me.”

On Friday, Briscoe told NBC Sports that Ford has “assured me I’m going to be in something” after this year.

“That’s kind of the unique thing with being a Ford driver. Even if you look at last year, I drove for two different teams (Stewart-Haas and Roush Fenway) under the Ford umbrella. I can go to Stewart-Haas again, I can go to Roush, I can go to Penske, I can go to any of those race teams just because I am a Ford driver. It’s good for a thing like that, but at the same time if I had my choice I want to be at Stewart-Haas. My hero growing up was Tony (Stewart). This is a place I feel comfortable.

“A lot of guys over there are dirt guys and just people I get along with. … I feel confident that’s where we’re working towards.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was in a good position to earn his second win of the year Saturday until a run-in with Christopher Bell with less than 11 laps to go in the race.

The two were racing for second when Briscoe pulled out to pass Bell on his right in the final two turns. Right as he was about to complete the pass, Bell ran out of room, made contact with Briscoe’s left rear and overshot the chicane, which is illegal.

As they went through Turn 2 on the ensuing lap, Bell made contact with Briscoe’s left side, sending him into a spin and causing a caution. Bell had to restart from the rear of the field for missing the chicane and not stopping along the frontstretch before the start/finish line, as required by NASCAR. He went on to finish 12th while Briscoe placed ninth and A.J. Allmendinger won.

“I know Christopher well enough and raced with him long enough I feel like to know that he doesn’t just get loose like that,” Briscoe told NBC Sports on Sunday. “I can see why he was mad after over (in the final turn), but I don’t know that it necessarily … it wasn’t worth ruining our day over here.”

Briscoe, whose one win this year came at Iowa over Bell, speculated the site of this year’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway may have influenced the incident with Bell.

“I know in the trucks I remember him talking to me how they knew we were going to be good at Homestead,” Briscoe said. “He was at our test at Homestead this year. I feel like for sure if a non-playoff guy can win a race that just helps their situation as well. I don’t know what’s going on his mind. I’m not too worried about it. I just hate we didn’t win the race yesterday.”

Ford reveals 2020 Mustang model for Xfinity Series

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Ford has unveiled the Mustang model that will be raced in the Xfinity Series next year.

The new model will take the place of the Mustang body that’s been used in the Xfinity Series since 2011.

The previous model won the Xfinity driver’s championship three times and the owner’s title six times.

The new model will make its debut in the Feb. 15 race at Daytona International Speedway.

Ford fields Mustangs in five different racing series: The Cup Series, Xfinity, NHRA Funny Car, Virgin Australia Supercars Championship and Cobra Jet.

Here’s a comparison between this year’s Mustang and next year’s.

Ford executive intervened in Daytona squabble among drivers

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The global director of Ford Performance said the manufacturer intervened between Ford drivers after the Daytona 500, which saw a Toyota driver celebrate the win and Ford drivers fume at each other afterward.

Shortly after Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, Ford driver Joey Logano exited his car on pit road and confronted fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell about McDowell not pushing him on the final lap. McDowell was upset with how he had been treated by Ford drivers earlier in the race. 

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, told “The Morning Drive” Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Ford got involved with those issues afterward. 

“I will say that we frequently get involved,” he said. “We don’t always get involved, but certainly after Daytona, like I said, we’re a family and every family has issues. For sure we had our issues at Daytona, can’t deny that. But as a family, we talked through those issues, tried to understand what led to those issues and then how can we fix that and make it even better going forward.

“We were disappointed with the result at Daytona, I think every single one of our drivers and our company. I think a lot of that frustration played out postrace because we had fast cars, and we weren’t able to capitalize on it, so I think a lot of those emotions came to the front. But we’ve talked through them, and I think most of those wounds are healed, or I at least hope they are, and looking forward to continuing those relationships that we have.”

Ford preaches a “One Ford” mantra with its teams to emphasize the importance of working together.

Asked on “The Morning Drive” who intervenes from Ford in such situations, Rushbrook said: “A lot of that is me. The great thing with Edsel Ford (great-grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford), we call him ‘The Godfather of Ford Racing.’ He will sit down with the drivers when they’re at the track. When Edsel Ford speaks, I think it carries a lot of weight and the drivers listen and they put a lot of value into that.

“But Edsel is not at the track every weekend so a lot of that will fall to me or Pat DiMarco (NASCAR Program Supervisor, Ford Performance), and we have open relationships with our drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors. If we see an issue, we’re going to talk to them about it and understand what is going on and the best way to go forward. It’s a family. We talk through it and find a way to keep going.”

This week things were better for Ford, which celebrated the first Cup win for the Mustang with Brad Keselowski winning at Atlanta.

“That was really great to see,” Rushbrook said. “So much hard work has gone into that program for well over a year and a half and to see it come together like that with five Mustangs in the top 10 and Brad pushing through the flu that he was fighting and get it to victory lane, that was awesome.”

David Ragan on new teammate, Front Row Motorsports’ expanded tech alliance with Roush

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There’s quite a bit of changes in store for David Ragan and Front Row Motorsports in 2018.

Entering his 12th full-time Cup season and his fifth overall season with the team owned by Bob Jenkins, Ragan will have a new teammate in veteran Michael McDowell

When McDowell was announced as Ragan’s new teammate on Dec. 14, Front Row also announced an expanded technical alliance with fellow Ford team, Roush Fenway Racing.

Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” on Wednesday, Ragan shared details on the alliance, his relationship with McDowell and his thoughts on some of the changes coming to all Cup teams.

On Front Row’s technical alliance, Ragan said Roush Fenway Racing will be responsible for building all of FRM’s speedway and road course cars.

“Ultimately, that’s going to allow our team to spend more time on our downforce cars,” Ragan said. “We feel like we’ve got really good people that can hang the bodies and do the fabrication work at Front Row. We’ve got the templates, the measurement tools. But it was really tough for us to build speedway cars for a month and then we switched everything over and built downforce cars and then right before the summer we had some road course cars. By having a stronger alliance with Roush racing it will help us concentrate on just downforce stuff. We’ve got 55, 60 employees that work really, really hard and put a lot of time and effort in our race program.”

The two-time Cup winner was asked how his team will be impacted by the recently announced changes to pit crews for next year. Teams will only be allowed five people over the pit wall during a stop, down from six.

Ragan said slow pit stops are inevitable and would provide benefits for drivers.

“I think we’ll just evolve again,” Ragan said. “These pit crews are so smart, they’re athletic. We have designated trainers and coaches. Front Row Motorsports is a little unique. We contract our pit crews out. So we have a pit crew from Stewart-Haas Racing that did both of our race cars last year … Kind of working through our Ford relationship. We felt like it was very cost-effective and smart for us to let Stewart-Haas Racing handle our pit crews. … They had the training facilities, they had the staff to really give us the best chance that we could’ve (had) on pit road.

“For me, I’m going to have a few more seconds to take a drink of water and maybe throw an icepack out the window because on the 11-second stops, you are flipping switches and holding the brake. You’re busy for that 10 or 11 seconds. As a driver, that’s something I haven’t really thought much about and I usually go over to our partners’ pit crew training facility in January and meet some of our new guys and kind of watch them a little bit.

“… I guarantee you when we get to Daytona, the teams are all going to approach it a little different. So by the time we all get to Atlanta and Las Vegas and Phoenix everybody’s going to be watching each other. It’s definitely going to slow the stops down some.”

Michael McDowell. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When Ragan arrives in Daytona in February it will be with McDowell as his teammate. The veteran driver replaces Landon Cassill. McDowell, 33, arrives at FRM after four seasons with Leavine Family Racing.

The 2018 season will be McDowell’s first in Cup with a teammate since his rookie year in 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Luckily, McDowell and Ragan have developed a close relationship away from the track in recent years.

“Our kids go to the same school, our wives our friends,” Ragan said. “We don’t live too far from each other. I think that does help when you have common interests outside of motorsports where you see each other. He actually stopped by my house this morning to pick up some things. I think that’s a really good thing and it’s healthy to have that relationship. But as far as on the track, I think teammates are so important.

“When I was at Roush Fenway Racing, the teammates I had really pushed me to do better and be smarter. When I filled in for Kyle Busch for a few races (in 2015), working with Denny (Hamlin) and Matt (Kenseth) and Carl (Edwards) and some of those guys at Joe Gibbs Racing, they push you to be better. They push you be more prepared going into a race weekend. Because you know you’re judged off of kind of what your team is doing.”

” … Michael McDowell is a great road racer. That’s his background. I think he’s going to help me and push me to do better. I feel like I have an edge at some of the short tracks where I cut my teeth. I feel if we can help each other, it only makes our team better. Michael’s really in touch and engaged with our race cars. He can help us with the development of our cars through testing and through making laps on the simulator this offseason. We have a lot of tools we’ll be working through before we make out first lap in Daytona.”