With the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season nearly halfway completed, there's been a particular storyline in the garage area and tracks of America that's beleaguering and on the minds with one of stock car's stable manufacturers:
What has happened to Ford?
Sure, they have three of their best drivers sitting in the top 12, with Matt Kenseth in seventh, Greg Biffle in 10th, and Carl Edwards in the 12th spot. But they all hail from Roush-Fenway Racing, who have arguably carried the Blue Oval's colors for the past several seasons, and that presents a problem.
Whereas the Chevrolet teams have diversified somewhat this season, with Hendrick Motorsports sharing the supposed spotlight with Richard Childress Racing, Ford hasn't really had cause for celebration this year, getting overpowered and outmaneuvered on the track by the likes of the Bowtie Brigade, Toyota, and Mopar (truly the Penske Championship Racing) banner.
Translation: Ford hasn't won a race all season long. And it's about halfway in the year.
So what's hurting Ford Racing, particularly in the Sprint Cup Series? Well, the Fusion teams haven't accomplished much in recent seasons, even though Carl Edwards gave Blue Oval fans some hope in 2008 with his nine win, runner-up season.
Despite the No. 99 team's excellent campaign, there hasn't been much to clamor about with Ford. A number of reasons may be attributed to their struggles, with the following:
- Ford hasn't had the horsepower strength and reliability of their counterparts.
- Their depth of drivers haven't been able to hold a candle to some of the other manufacturers' "struggling" seeds.
- The fall of Yates Racing, who were the centerpiece of the trademark Ford horsepower, have beset the manufacturer a few seasons or so.
This season, most notably in the past few races, Ford has tried to seek for a stronger engine program, implementing FR9 unit, which is the manufacturer's newest powerplant since the 2004 season. Teams have been somewhat lukewarm, at best, in transitioning to the engine, sticking with the '04 model despite their inability to keep up with Chevrolet, Dodge, and Toyota.
Partly to blame, or perhaps point out, with Ford's struggles this season have been the "death" of some of the manufacturer's older organizations.
Years ago, the talk of Ford Nation was around Robert Yates, who produced arguably the strongest engines in the garage area. A Sprint Cup team owner titlist in 1999, his motors helped Dale Jarrett earn his first championship in the most elite form of stock car racing.
His accomplishments and works were so noted, that in the 1990 season finale, car owner rival Jack Roush implemented a No. 6 Ford engine and chassis from the shop of Yates Racing. Talk about a compliment to the highest degree.
Yates has since retired into the finer pastures of life, with son Doug continuing on his family's legacy in NASCAR racing. Still, the absence of the prominent car owner has somewhat setback the manufacturer as a whole, and it's shown significantly this season.
Keep in mind that with the closure of Yates Racing came the shuffling of particular drivers and crew members. Perhaps the team and Ford's inability to develop prospect racers injured their efforts to keep up with their rivals, who have prospered with some of motorsports' greatest and younger talents.
Consider this: in the early 2000s, Ford housed the Busch brothers, who have now become some of the best racers in NASCAR.
Elder sibling Kurt won a title in 2004 with Ford, but has since found some success in the Dodge collective, notably with Roger Penske's No. 2 Miller Lite team. He has experienced a renaissance with his career, winning a pair of 1.5-mile races, including the epic Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Then there's Kyle, affectionately known by fans as "Shrub" and "Rowdy," who has done nothing but sensational things in NASCAR, dominating the Nationwide Series and honing his excellent driving skills in the Sprint Cup ranks.
As a Joe Gibbs Racing driver, his stock has risen tremendously, which has got to make Ford wonder if letting him go was the right thing to do, much less Chevrolet's Hendrick Motorsports (but that's another story for another time).
Apart from Kenseth, Biffle, and Edwards, has there been much to be proud about with Ford's line of racers? Well, if there is, then you're probably a Baltimore Orioles fan.
After all, and with all due respect, would you consider running a team with A.J. Allmendinger, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler, David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil?
While Sadler is a previous race winner, there hasn't been much to be proud about with his racing career since 2004.
Ragan flirted with Cup stardom in 2008, making a run for the Chase in the No. 6 UPS Ford before struggling in '09 and this year.
Allmendinger hasn't been terrible, yet he has not exactly excelled in his Cup and stock car career. There's been flashes of brilliance, yet his remaining with the fledgling Richard Petty Motorsports unit has been nothing but disappointing.
As for Gilliand and Kvapil, they're not exactly anything more but dependable top-35 racers, a safe bet to put in a machine when you need to get a secured spot in any race.
After Carl Edwards, the next best Ford racer is Kasey Kahne, who's struggling in 2010 and currently finds himself in the 20th spot.
With Kahne's Chase hopes looking very slim and his commitment to the manufacturer about as good as Hall and Oates not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ford has themselves in a very peculiar position.
Does it go in the direction of rebuilding in the near future, which may mean a select group of young prospects getting Cup rides far earlier than warranted?
Or should Ford suffer for a few seasons longer before honing their talents?
Like any organization that makes more poor choices than beneficial ones, the big picture doesn't seem too bad. Logically speaking, Chevrolet's dominance will most likely end once Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon's careers are over.
Toyota can't surely be as strong as they have been down the road, as NASCAR's aiming to come up with either an improved Car of Today/Tomorrow or a second generation CoT vehicle.
That, in turn, will force everyone back into square one, assuming that it's a drastic change that throws out all the notes and variables of the current car.
At the end of the day, the 2010 season has not been a tremendously successful season for the Ford banner, and it will likely be one to forget once the checkers are unfurled at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
However, it can be salvaged, most especially if one of its racers end up hoisting the Cup trophy by season's end.