DEARBORN -- The best way to describe where our program is after two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is to say it’s still a work in progress.
We had a strong performance at Daytona, winning one qualifying race, and having several cars with a very good chance to win the 500, including Greg Biffle, who led on the final lap before getting shuffled back to third.
But after watching how our cars performed on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in California, it’s obvious that we still have some work to do in order to consistently be competitive with some of the teams. But I’m encouraged and confident that the work we did over the off-season was definitely in the right direction and has allowed us to close the gap.
The reason I say that is because of what happened to Greg Biffle on the final pit stop when he got caught on the wrong side of the caution and was forced to the tail end of the lead lap. He had been running in the Top 10 consistently the entire race, but while Jimmie Johnson got a lucky break off pit road and restarted as the leader with 20 laps to go, Biffle found himself mired in 20th.
A year ago, it would have been hard for Biffle, or any other driver for that matter, to make up any significant ground. He probably would have ended up 16th or 17th at best. On Sunday, however, his 3M Ford Fusion was able to maneuver through traffic and he recovered sufficiently to post a 10th-place finish.
My point is that many of our drivers and crew chiefs felt that the adjustments they made throughout last weekend were good and helped the car from a speed and handling characteristic. That wasn’t always the case last year.
I also felt that while our top four cars as a whole – 9, 16, 17, and 99 – weren’t as strong as the 48 or 29, they were competitive with the rest of the field and, if Biffle had gotten the same break Johnson did, he might have been able to challenge for the win, or at least a top three finishing spot. In addition, all four of those cars ran comfortably inside the Top 15 until Kasey spun through the grass, so I consider it a solid showing, all-in-all, for our top contenders.
Make no mistake we want to win races. That’s why we’re in this business. But we also have to keep our eye on the big picture as well. Even though it’s early, Biffle is sitting third in the point standings and Matt is seventh after both of them finished with back-to-back Top 10 finishes at Daytona and California. Carl is 10th in the standings, but it’s just a matter of time before he finds himself back up front, and even though Kasey is in a bit of a hole right, we fully expect him to be in the chase by the time New Hampshire rolls around in September.
This weekend we’ll try our luck again at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track where Roush Fenway Racing has had a lot of success through the years. And while I won’t go out on a limb and guarantee a win, I will say that the odds of us continuing our steady improvement are good.
Ford NASCAR Program Manager