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Denny Hamlin on Why Ford Has Struggled This Season

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What’s Happening?

Fords are struggling across all NASCAR National Touring Series this season with no wins across all three series as the calendar turns to May. However, some insight from Denny Hamlin at Las Vegas and an astute observation from Jonathan Field on social media has given us a new theory for why Ford is struggling. Here’s a breakdown of that theory that Field describes below.

  • This year, Ford unveiled the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse, which made its debut in the NASCAR Cup Series and other forms of motorsports. Expectations were high after winning the Series Championship in all 3 NASCAR National Touring Series in 2023.
  • However, the start of the 2024 season has been difficult. Ford has failed to win any NASCAR National Touring Series race, and only one Ford sits in the top 10 in points as of right now.
  • Ford fans are growing restless as the Mustang Dark Horse struggles on track. Will Ford turn it around?

What is Aeromapping and How Does it Affect the Car?

Denny Hamlin made his comments during the race weekend. Keep in mind, this was only the third race of the season, and he explained what the struggle could be for Ford and Toyota teams bringing a totally new car.

There’s something to be said about having a car that you have been able to work on and know the characteristics. We have to guess on our aero maps until we understand, is the track data real. [Chevy] has been dealing probably in tweaking their aero map on this one car for a while.

Denny Hamlin

This raises the question, what is an aero map? Hamlin explained it in further detail later in his availability.

It’s just information that you know takes the aerodynamics of the race car, and puts it in a computer, and tells you how much grip you should have…We make a lot of speculations until we actually race the car on tracks like this.

Denny Hamlin

The idea is that Ford needed to do a lot of guesswork with the aerodynamics of the car before the season started. While testing the car helps with some things, there is no good substitute for true race conditions. Where a lack of aeromapping can show up is how a car performs in traffic versus in clean air.

Fords have generally been quite fast in clean air, with 5 poles in the Cup Series this season, all laps where the car is along on track in unobstructed, clean air. Chevy has 5 poles as well with Toyota having only one, but, the Fords aren’t getting the same results in the race. The Fords seem to especially struggle during the races in traffic where dirty air is plentiful, and we know how dirty messes with aerodynamics.

Toyota has been much better in race trim compared to Ford, with Toyota having 5 race wins against only one pole. Aeromapping likely plays a key role in getting that right. If they get it right, then it’s very right, but, if they get it wrong, it’s very wrong.

This was not unexpected either. In the article below, we dive into the subtle differences between the new Toyota and new Ford bodies, and how they could impact the cars in traffic. It seems our original assumption that Ford’s may struggle in traffic is panning out.

Is NASCAR Trying to Help Ford Out?

Jonathan Field astutely pointed out in his post that NASCAR took a Chevrolet and a Ford for wind tunnel testing after the Talladega race. Could NASCAR be trying to see what the discrepancies are between Ford and Chevrolet?

One thing is for sure, NASCAR wants to keep their product compelling. The way they do that is by keeping the playing field as level as possible to avoid runaway wins and Championships. The Next-Gen car was specifically designed with this principle in mind.

For years, NASCAR has been notorious for taking away things that gave certain drivers or manufacturers an unfair advantage over other teams. One such example was the 1997 NASCAR All-Star Race, when Jeff Gordon won in a special car, “T-Rex”. He smoked the field so bad that NASCAR asked the car never come back to the track again, and regulated it out of the rulebook.

Could NASCAR be trying to help Ford out? It’s certainly possible, but, NASCAR can only do so much. They have to walk a tight balance between allowing competitors to be rewarded for good work, while also keeping the playing field fair and level.

At the end of the day, it’s up to Ford and their race teams to make the cars better. Work needs to start soon if Ford wants to get back in the Championship hunt.

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