Mark Rushbrook

Friday 5: Ford boss reaffirms commitment to motorsports

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The executive overseeing Ford’s racing program said the company is “committed to motorsports” even as the manufacturer faces economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said motorsports remains important to the manufacturer but admitted that “scrutiny to make sure we’re getting the return from every dollar is probably higher than it ever has been before, or at least in the last five years.

“So that is part of the discussions that we have internally with our motorsports steering team and governance board that we have with our racing partners, but Ford is a company founded based on motorsports with Henry Ford (winning a race in 1901) and ultimately forming the company over 100 years ago. It’s part of who we are today, so we’re here to be in motorsports. We’re committed to motorsports.”

Ford announced during an earnings call in April that it lost $2 billion in the first quarter of the year. Before taxes and after adjusting for one-time items, Ford lost $632 million. Projections at that time were that the number could top $5 billion in the second quarter. Even so, Ford stated in April it had $35 billion in cash.

“Be assured that everyone at Ford is squarely focused on both today and our future,” said Jim Hackett, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ford Motor Co., during the April earnings call. “We believe it remains bright and it’s a great source of motivation for us as we serve that future and of course take care of all these immediate needs.”

On the track, Ford has been a leader this season, winning seven of the 13 Cup races. Ryan Blaney’s victory Monday at Talladega gave every Cup driver at Team Penske at least one series win this season.

Ford’s wins this season are by Kevin Harvick (two), Brad Keselowski (two), Joey Logano (two) and Blaney (one). Seven Ford drivers are in the 16 playoff spots at the halfway mark of the regular season: Harvick, Keselowski, Logano, Blaney, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto.

“The season is going really well so far,” Rushbrook said. “Certainly the four races before the break that we had with our two wins out of those four races and just continuing that momentum even a little bit better for our win percentage since we’ve returned from that break.”

2. Missing practice

Although racing without practice appeases some fans, it creates challenges for some teams.

Chris Buescher, who is in his first season back at Roush Fenway Racing and has a new crew chief in Luke Lambert, said the lack of practice has impacted his team.

Buescher said the team knew “that it was going to be very difficult to start up coming back to a new team with a new crew chief and not having the ability to do any testing, and then after just four races taking away all of our practice. 

“That’s made it extremely difficult for us as a team trying to build chemistry and come together, so we’ve been put at a pretty serious disadvantage, and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last several weeks. We’ve made some huge gains that are really helping us be able to be more competitive.”

Chris Buescher is 19th in the points at the halfway mark in the regular season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) 

With the regular season at the halfway point, Buescher enters this weekend’s races at Pocono Raceway 19th in the standings. He is 40 points out of what would be the final playoff spot, which is held by rookie Tyler Reddick.

Buescher opened the season by scoring four consecutive top-20 finishes, which included a third-place result in the Daytona 500. Those races featured practice.

When the sport resumed in May after a 71-day pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, practices were eliminated. In the nine races since, Buescher has three top-20 finishes, including a sixth-place finish Monday at Talladega.

Cup teams are not scheduled to practice at upcoming races at Pocono, Indianapolis, Kentucky, the All-Star Race at Bristol and Kansas. Weekend schedules for upcoming races at Texas and New Hampshire have not been revealed.

With 13 races left until the playoffs begin in September, Buescher and his team will need to show better results despite not having any practice time.

“I feel like we should be stepping our game up every week going forward right now,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of the elementary stuff behind us that we had to learn as a group and being new with Luke Lambert leading the charge for the 17 group, for me not being able to go into the shop and be a lot more hands-on with everything has been very difficult.

“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and pride myself in being able to know exactly what’s underneath our race cars, what’s going into it and how we’re going to be better. With this distance, it’s just made it difficult, so where we’re at we definitely have a chance to make (the playoffs) still. We just have to clean up. We have to keep progressing in what we’ve been able to do the last couple of weeks.”

3. Looking ahead

While Cup races Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway, it is not expected to be the only doubleheader weekend this season for the series.

NASCAR has not announced its schedule beyond Aug. 2 but Michigan International Speedway and Dover International Speedway are expected to host doubleheaders after both tracks had earlier races postponed by the pandemic.

Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines, said this week that he would be concerned most about engines at Dover.

“I’m a little bit more nervous about a doubleheader at Dover than the other tracks,” Yates said. “Dover is a long race no matter what and it’s also a race where on a green track you turn a lot of RPMs and as the lap times fall off, the RPM comes way down, so when we go there to qualify or when we used to qualify we would turn 9500 RPM on Friday in qualifying, but during the race you’re about 9000 RPM, so it’s a big swing. Conditions change a lot, so I think Dover is the one that makes me nervous and obviously we’ll do our homework and prepare, but just something to look out for and it is a different track.”

As for running two races this weekend at Pocono and the impact on engines? Yates said it shouldn’t be a problem.

“When Pocono was originally laid out, we were going to have practice and qualifying and then two 350-mile races, which would have put us over 700 (miles),” Yates said. “… So if we were to go over 700 miles, we would need to change springs after Race 1 before the second race. Now that we’re not going to have practice or qualifying, we’re going to run both races without changing valve springs. We’ve made a pretty extensive checklist, so we’ll probably end up changing oil and checking the filters, going back through some things that you would normally do after a race event.” 

4. More of the same?

Drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing have combined to win each of the last five Pocono races.

Kyle Busch has won three of the last five races there. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. each has a win during that time. Erik Jones has finished in the top five in each of the past three races there, including a runner-up finish in the most recent race there last season.

In the last six Pocono races, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have five wins, 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. They’ve also combined to lead 51% of all the laps run in those races. Joe Gibbs Racing has 14 career wins at Pocono. The only track JGR has won more races at is Richmond. JGR has 16 Cup victories there.

5. Leading the way …

Ryan Blaney has scored the most points in Cup since the series resumed in May. He has scored 342 points, collecting one win and six top-five finishes in those nine races. After Blaney in points scored since the season resumed is Martin Truex Jr. (328 points), Kevin Harvick (326), Brad Keselowski (323) and Denny Hamlin (317).

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Ryan Newman in serious condition; injuries not life threatening

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ryan Newman is in serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries after a last-lap crash in Monday’s rain-delayed Daytona 500.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, read a statement at 10:06 p.m. ET from Roush Yates Racing reporting Newman’s condition and that Newman was being treated at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach.

UPDATE: Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, issued this statement at 11:51 a.m. ET Tuesday:

Newman, 42, was injured after a chaotic last lap. He passed Denny Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch, getting a push from Ryan Blaney.

Exiting Turn 4, Blaney went low to challenge for the lead. Newman dropped down the track to block. Blaney hit Newman. The contact turned Newman’s car to the right. He slammed the outside wall and turned upside down. Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into Newman’s car on the driver side. Newman’s car crossed the finish line sliding on its roof with sparks flying. The No. 6 Ford car came to rest just beyond the exit of pit road.

“We were coming so fast, it’s hard to make a quick move, especially with someone pushing you,” Blaney said after the race. “(Newman) blocked the top and he blocked the bottom, too. At that point, when he blocked the bottom, I was just committed to pushing him to the win, trying to get a Ford the win. I thought I was pretty square but it got him to the right. I hope he’s alright. That looked really bad. Definitely unintentional. I was committed to pushing him to the win. It sucks to lose the race, but you never want to see anyone get hurt.”

Newman, beginning his 19th Cup season, was credited with ninth place. Hamlin won the race for the second consecutive year and third time in his career.

It took safety workers 10 minutes to remove Newman from the car. Screens were placed around the car to prevent spectators from viewing safety crews attending to Newman. After he was removed from the car, Newman was immediately transported by ambulance to a local hospital at 8:09 p.m. ET.

LaJoie tweeted: “Dang, I hope Newman is ok. That is worse case scenario and I had nowhere to go but smoke.”

NASCAR announced late Monday that it will take the cars of Newman and LaJoie back to its R&D Center to further examine.

Car owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for his team celebrating Hamlin’s win because they were not aware of the severity of the crash until they had reached victory lane.

“I apologize to everybody, but we really didn’t know,” Gibbs said after the race.

Said Hamlin: “Someone’s health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport.”

O’Donnell read a statement that said: “Ryan Newman is being treated at Halifax Medical Center. He’s in serious condition but doctors have indicated his injuries are non-life threatening. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers and ask that you respect the privacy of Ryan and his family during this time. We appreciate your patience and cooperation and will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, stated: “We’re grateful for the news about Ryan. We had been waiting for information just like everyone else, so to hear some positive news tonight is a relief. Ryan has been an important part of the Roush Fenway and Ford NASCAR program this past year, and he is so respected for being a great competitor by everyone in the sport.  The entire Ford family is sending positive thoughts for his recovery, but our first thoughts remain with his family and his team.”

President Donald J. Trump tweeted that prayers for Newman. Trump gave the command to start the Daytona 500 on Sunday and met with some drivers before the race. Newman attended a rally for Trump in 2016 during Trump’s campaign.

Chase Briscoe returning to Stewart-Haas for Xfinity season

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe, the 2019 Xfinity Rookie of the Year, will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to compete in that series this season, the team announced Monday.

The 25-year-old Briscoe finished fifth in points last season. He has two career series victories. He won the inaugural Xfinity race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in 2018 and won at Iowa in July 2019.

“This is the first time I’ll be able to run back-to-back, full seasons with the same team, and I couldn’t be happier to do it with Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Briscoe, a development driver with Ford Performance, in a statement from the team. “Their faith in me means a lot, and I want to reward them and Ford with more wins and a run for the championship.”

“We are thrilled to continue Chase’s development program with a second full season running the Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, in a statement. “Chase has proven himself well so far and we’re looking forward to continuing his progression as he competes for an Xfinity Series championship for SHR and Ford.”

Hailie Deegan looking forward to being a ‘focus’ of attention at Ford

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CONCORD, N.C. — Hailie Deegan‘s future with Ford started in style.

The 18-year-old began the next chapter of her career Tuesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center by slowly piloting a blue Ford Shelby 350 through a set of dark curtains before taking questions from the media.

That followed a hype video showing Deegan doing donuts in another Ford car.

Hailie Deegan emerges from a Ford Shelby 350 as part of her introduction as a member of Ford’s driver development program. (Photo by Daniel McFadin)

The theatrics on her behalf are one of the reasons why, after a few years with Toyota, she’ll be be spending “a lot of birthdays” as a Ford development driver.

But it mostly came down to there not being enough rides for her in Toyota’s stable to properly propel her up the ladder.

“At the end of the day, Toyota, they introduced me to the NASCAR world … they pushed me into it, they gave me a really good base and that’s something I’m super thankful for,” Deegan said. “But at the end of the day, there’s so many Toyota drivers and there’s not many seats. I think we made the best decision for my career long-term.”

Deegan joins a development program that boasts Chase Briscoe as its founding driver.

“There’s going to be more of a focus,” Deegan said. “That’s something I was super adamant about. I want to be focused on, I want to have the attention over here to be a better driver and get developed and that’s something that stood out to me and I think that’s going to help my career.”

Ford recently entered a partnership with the David Gilliland co-owned DGR-Crosley that will add to its efforts.

A three-time winner on what’s now the ARCA Menards Series West, Deegan will compete full-time with DGR-Crosley in the ARCA Menards Series while also competing in select IMSA races, beginning with the Jan. 24 Michelin Pilot Challenge endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

The looming ARCA season won’t be Deegan’s first interaction with DGR-Crosley. She competed in one ARCA Menards Series East race with the team this year at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I got used to the team, I got to feel everyone out, see what I liked, didn’t like and there was a lot of things that I liked about them,” Deegan said. “I saw how hard their work ethic was. I really like how David, he was a racer. He understands it. He has a son (Todd Gilliland) that races, he knows the game of trying to build your kid into the ranks of NASCAR and running a team at the same time while still being a racer. That’s something I think is a really good combo that’s just going to help his team get better and better. Especially with how much Ford is supporting them, getting behind them.

“The resources they’re giving them is insane.”

Among those resources now at her disposal is Ford’s “marketing push.”

“That’s something I didn’t really have in the past with the team I was with and the manufacturer, that’s something (Ford wants) to push more,” Deegan said. “Push more stuff that’s away from racing, that’s ‘OK, let’s gets you in a Mustang, lets get you in a truck and let’s do some cool videos and stuff like that’ and that’s something I’m big into. I love social media. I love doing stuff like that and that’s definitely a push they want to connect us with.”

All this is work towards one goal: reaching the NASCAR Cup Series.

Both Deegan and Ford Performance Motorsports’ global director, Mark Rushbrook, preached the importance of Deegan moving up each step on the stock car racing ladder when she’s ready.

“We want to make sure, and Hailie wants to make sure, her team wants to make sure, she progresses to those levels when she’s ready to ensure success at each step,” Rushbrook said.

While Ford didn’t announce an expected plan for her progression, Deegan’s father, action sports star Brian Deegan, hopes the opportunity arises for her to “dabble” in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at some point this year.

“I think she needs that,” Brian Deegan said. “She wants to race Eldora for sure, just because it’s a dirt race.”

He even mapped out the ideal structure for his daughter over the next few years.

“It would be ARCA (in 2020), 2021 trucks, 2022 trucks, 23′, 24′ (in) Xfinity is kind of what we’re hoping and laying out, is kind of our goal for her to have that path and then get to Cup,” Brian Deegan said. “By then I think she should have enough experience on everything to be ready, to be competitive.”

Hailie Deegan admitted it’s been difficult to see her fellow competitors from the ARCA East and West Series get a shot at the Truck Series before she does.

“It’s been really hard, just going to ISM (Raceway) at Phoenix (in November,)” she said. “It was so hard for me because my teammate (Derek Kraus at Bill McAnally Racing), he was racing in the truck race and I was sitting there on pit road and I was like, ‘Man, if he can do it, I want to do it.’ Seeing all my friends reach trucks, that’s something hard for me to kind of hold back on, ‘Ok let’s race ARCA, let’s gain experience, let’s get better before I go there.'”

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Hailie Deegan is Ford’s newest development driver

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ford Performance Motorsports revealed Hailie Deegan as its newest development driver Tuesday at its Technical Center, with her joining Chase Briscoe in the program.

Deegan will compete in multiple series in 2020, including the full ARCA Menards Series season with DGR-Crosley driving the No. 4 Ford and select events in the Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

Neither Deegan or Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports global director, would say how long her deal was, but Deegan said she’s be with Ford for “a lot of birthdays.”

At the unveiling, Deegan said all of her funding is focused on the ARCA Series, but if the opportunity to race in other series comes up this year, they will pursue it.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

“I could not be more excited to join Ford Performance and DGR-Crosley,” Deegan said in a press release. “It became clear quickly that I align with the Ford Performance vision of driver development and our shared drive to win.  It is also extra special to get to race with Ford, a family company, that already had ties to my family. Growing up watching my dad race a Ford, and now to be able to do the same thing is very cool.

“It’s also important to me to be teamed up with a hardworking group such as DGR with like minded vision and goals. We are all committed to work as hard as it takes to finish on top.  I look forward to the upcoming season and learning as much as possible to get me closer to accomplishing my goals of winning races.”

Deegan, 18, will be leaving the vaunted Toyota Racing Development pipeline, which has helped groom Erik Jones and Christopher Bell for NASCAR’s premier series. But with Toyota’s Cup and Xfinity rides mostly filled for the foreseeable future, Ford’s larger team lineup might offer Deegan a better path for accelerating through NASCAR’s national series if she can improve on her two wins and 11 top 10s in 14 K&N Series (now the ARCA Menards Series) starts last year.

“Hailie has shown in her brief time behind the wheel of a stock car that she’s got what it takes to be successful,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, in a press release.  “Our goal is to put her on a path to realize our shared goal of winning championships and part of that is gaining experience on tracks such as road courses and superspeedways.  We feel this year will serve as a good foundation for what lies ahead.”

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan, Hailie Deegan is just the second woman to win a NASCAR sanctioned race, following Shawna Robinson. She’s earned three wins in 28 ARCA Menards Series West races over the last two years, and she has a knack for winning in dramatic fashion. She finished third in the K&N West standings in 2019.

One of her ARCA Menards Series East starts this year was with DGR-Crosley, which recently announced its switch from Toyota to Ford with the intent of being part of the company’s development program.

Deegan made six ARCA Menards Series starts this year, earning one top five and four top-10 finishes.

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