Racing at Michigan International Speedway is different. Drivers like Chase Elliot (Atlanta), Kyle Bush (Las Vegas), and Bubba Wallace Talladega may have Cup Series stops that feel like coming home, and every trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway is pretty much a home visit for everyone at NASCAR.
But MIS weekend is great for manufacturers. Chevy, Ford and Toyota all have major Michigan operations, so the desire to see one of their drivers win there is stronger than perhaps anywhere except for the opening game at Daytona and Championship 4 in Phoenix.
Ford drivers have won the last seven races at MIS, but that line is in danger of crashing to a finish like the first turn of a green-white race on the Indianapolis road track. The brand’s racing czar understands that, and this week admitted that Ford’s next-gen era has gotten off to an ugly start.
Chase Elliott has as many victories as all Ford drivers combined
Chevrolet is racking up the most NASCAR Cup Series wins in a single season for the first time since 2015, thanks in large part to all of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers who have been on Victory Lane at least once.
Chevy drivers won 13 races out of 22 points heading to the Michigan International Speedway to start the final month of the regular season. Toyota drivers have five wins, and Ford leads the rear with four despite putting roughly the same number of cars on the track as Chevy does.
Meanwhile, Chase Elliott, the #9 Chevy chauffeur, won four times to match Ford’s trips to victory lane. Penske’s Austin Sendrick takes the Daytona 500, Stewart’s Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe wins in Phoenix, and Penske wins Joey Logano Triumph at Darlington and Gateway.
The year started in a promising way for Ford. Lugano won the Busch Light Clash Show at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Chris Boecher swept the double duels at Daytona before Cindric won the first points-counting race.
There hasn’t been much to get excited about since then.
Ford’s racing chief sums up his four winning season:unacceptable
When the field lines up on Sunday in Michigan, Ford will be two months gone since one of its drivers (Joey Lugano) won a NASCAR Cup Series race in the first season of the Next Generation car.
The drought, combined with just four race wins for the season, contributes to a scenario in which only four of the manufacturer’s cars could make it to qualifying.
Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, didn’t try to tell the story this week while meeting with the racing media.
Four wins are not enough. He said. “We need to make more gains. We need to increase the number of drivers in the standings and hopefully at least four drivers if not more in qualifying. It will certainly be difficult with what we have reached with only four races remaining in the regular season.”
In Rushbrook’s mind, the nature of the next generation car was a problem. NASCAR’s ban against modifications on parts supplied by select vendors leaves few aspects to modification. Some of those who can be played with react radically to change.
“This car is so sensitive that even when one team takes four or two cars to the track with very small differences, you’ll see one near the top of the board and two, three, four cars at the other end of that’s part of it and it’s just understanding,” Rushbrook said. How sensitive it is and making sure we can really find the perfect place to run these cars.”
Joey Logano refers to “BS simulation”
With two teams sharing six cars combined, Toyota has a built-in excuse to feel bewildered about maximizing next-generation performance, however, and the manufacturer leads Ford in NASCAR Cup Series victories.
Joey Logano has half of Ford’s wins, but he can barely strut because he understands how quickly things can change.
“I’ve learned to keep pushing, keep my head down, and keep grinding,” he said. Autoweek. “It can change in one weekend. You can go from hero to zero and from zero to hero real fast.”
And that can come from the smallest of changes made either out of inspiration or desperation.
“We don’t have great data on this car to know what’s real or what BS simulation is,” said the 2018 Series Champion. “It’s hard to read what’s in real life and what things you see from simulation data. It’s hard to tell these things right now without a set of real-world tests on the right track.”
Do you have a question or note about the race? John Moriello of Sportscasting does a mailbag column every Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.