Monday, September 28, 2009
Updated: September 30, 11:55 AM ET
Ford playing catch-up in '09
By Terry Blount
Unless Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards can pull off a major upset, 2009 will go down as the year of the Ford Flop.
Two races into the Chase, the two Ford drivers in the Sprint Cup playoff appear to be out of the running for the championship. Biffle is ninth, 138 points back. Edwards is 11th, 153 points behind leader Mark Martin.
It isn't that Edwards and Biffle are too far behind to get back in the hunt.
Drivers have overcome bigger points deficits in the Chase to win the title. But neither team has shown any indication this year that it is capable of doing so.
How bad is it? It's so bad that Edwards finished 11th Sunday at Dover and he was happy about it.
"That's the best possible finish we could've hoped for with this race car," Edwards said after the race. "Our mousetrap just wasn't good enough today."
The mousetrap of which Edwards speaks is his No. 99 Fusion, which hasn't been good enough all season.
It was good enough to produce a series-best nine victories last year and a runner-up finish to champion Jimmie Johnson. But Edwards is winless this season. So is Biffle, who finished 13th at Dover.
"It was a frustrating day," Biffle said Sunday when the race ended. "What's probably most frustrating about the whole thing, and I hate to beat a dead horse, is that the 42 [Juan Pablo Montoya] and the 48 [Jimmie Johnson] came up here and tire-tested. Look at the guys that didn't tire-test. We ran terrible."
Yes, Greg, it is a dead horse. It's also a dead issue, or actually, a nonissue.
Montoya finished third Sunday. He finished second in the first Chase race at New Hampshire and didn't have a testing advantage there.
Johnson won Sunday's race, which means he finished first in both Dover events this season. He now has five victories at Dover, tying him with David Pearson for third on the all-time wins list at the Monster Mile.
Apparently, a tire test isn't the only reason he's winning there.
"There are some guys that can't help but say stuff time after time," Johnson said Sunday. "It is what it is. I guess as we move forward there's been some other tire tests going on and we can all be mad at somebody else.
"Nobody heard me complain about Indy and not being able to tire-test there, and it definitely hurt us in qualifying. But we just kept our heads down, went to work, made the car right and won the race."
Ford drivers have a lot more problems to solve other than worrying about which drivers did a tire test. Statistically speaking, this is the worst Ford season in 27 years.
A Ford driver has finished fourth or better in every Cup season since 1983, including five championships. And Ford has won at least six races in every season since 1987.
|Carl Edwards has been hobbling around the Cup garage since breaking his right foot playing Frisbee Sept. 2.|
In the last six seasons, Ford has two Cup championships and three runner-up finishes in the season standings.
But the Ford contingent has only two victories this year, both by Matt Kenseth in the first two races. That makes Ford 0-for-26 since February.
The good news is Kenseth finished third Sunday, his best showing since his victory at Fontana, Calif.
"We haven't been performing," Kenseth said after Sunday's race. "The whole company hasn't been performing the way it needs to to win a championship. That's not being negative or anything -- it's just obvious. Everybody can see that."
Edwards is hoping his team can get a few tips from Kenseth's crew that will lead to better runs down the stretch.
Edwards won three of the last four races in 2008. If he can duplicate that effort this year, he can make a surprising run at the title. That's a big if.
Maybe if the new Ford engine had arrived sooner, things would look different. Ford officials showed off the new engine before the season started, but it has yet to hit the track.
Reports are that Ford plans to debut the new motor for at least one Ford driver during the Chase, possibly at Charlotte. But it's unlikely Edwards or Biffle will use it. You don't experiment with an unproven engine with your playoff racers.
And when we're talking about Ford, we really mean Roush Fenway Racing, Ford's only contending team. That will change next year when Ford adds Richard Petty Motorsports, gaining talented driver Kasey Kahne.
RFR has been a tick behind all season. Well, maybe more than a tick.
RFR driver David Ragan is one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Ragan came close to making the Chase in 2008 and ended that year with 14 top-10 finishes. This year he's 30th in the standings with only one top-10 finish.
For now, RFR officials are left trying to improve Edwards' and Biffle's chances in the last eight races.
If not, the Ford Flop is a fact for 2009.
|The last Sprint Cup win by a Ford driver? Matt Kenseth's victory in Fontana, Calif., on Feb. 22.|
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.