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Ford’s Enigmatic 2023 Season

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Ford has had a bit of a trying season in NASCAR. However, the past few weeks have seen something of a resurgence for Ford teams, but maybe not the teams you would expect. Let’s take a look at the season that Ford has had so far.

The Struggles of Stewart-Haas and Team Penske

Ford began the season with a disappointing yet optimistic Speedweeks at Daytona. Ford teams led 131 of 212 laps in the Daytona 500 along with sweeping the Duel races. However, they would lose the Daytona 500 to Chevrolet’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

From there Ford struggled during the early portion of the season as a whole. It did nab two victories at Atlanta and the Coca-Cola 600 with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney at Team Penske. However, Stewart-Haas Racing was struggling immensely.

For most of the early season and even until now, Stewart-Haas Racing had three of their four cars outside of the top 20 in the driver’s standings. They were even stuck behind drivers like Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman who missed significant time with injuries. The only driver well within Playoff contention is Kevin Harvick, who has failed to win a race in his swan song season.

As for Penske, yes they have won two races, but, aside from those wins, it’s been a tough season. Logano is only 13th in the driver’s standings, and he would be 11th in the Playoff seedings if they started today with only eight Playoff points. This is following Logano winning his second Cup Series Championship two seasons ago.

Ryan Blaney won at Charlotte, but, since that win, he has zero top-5s and five finishes outside of the top-20 in 10 races. He currently has a 15.3 average finish, which is his worst since 2017 when he was with the Wood Brothers. Austin Cindric has been seemingly nonexistent all season with only three top-10s.

However, some unlikely heroes began to emerge from the Ford camp. As opposed to teams like Stewart-Haas Racing carrying the torch for Ford, other organizations began picking up the slack.

The Rise of RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports

Jack Roush has been a staunch Ford loyalist ever since he came to NASCAR. However, his team has struggled in recent years. Brad Keselowski joined in 2022, and in 2023, results have begun to show.

Chris Buescher was a bit up and down to start the season, but he hit his stride beginning at Talladega in April. Since then, he has had eight top-10 finishes in 15 races. Only 24 races into the season, Buescher has set a new career high for top-5s, wins, and average finish, and he has tied his career-high in top-10 finishes.

Brad Keselowski has followed up his worst season in the Cup Series since his rookie year with a solid season. Keselowski, like Buscher, was up-and-down to start the, but Talladega was when everything began clicking. Keselowski has seven top-10 finishes over the last 15 races, and he currently sits +143 above the Playoff cut-line.

RFK Racing, who had not won multiple non-restrictor plate races in a season since 2014 with Carl Edwards, brought in two wins in a row with Buscher behind the wheel. One race at Richmond, and the other in Ford’s backyard of Michigan.

As for Front Row Motorsports, they have gone from back marker to Playoff contender. Following winning the Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell in 2021, Front Row has had two of their best seasons. McDowell had his best statistical season in terms of top-10s and average finish despite missing the Playoffs.

In 2023, McDowell has been a legitimate threat to make the Playoffs on points, especially after he dominated the Indianapolis Road Course race on Sunday. This was different from all other Front Row Motorsports wins.

It was not because of a lucky fog bank or on a restrictor plate track. McDowell had the best car on track, the crew had the best day on pit road, and they won the race.

Todd Gilliland has even had a solid season with top-10s at COTA, Bristol Dirt, and Talladega. He also notched top-15 finishes at Atlanta, Richmond, Darlington, Gateway, and Pocono. A few years ago, eight top-15 finished would have been unheard of at Front Row. He may not be a Playoff driver, but it’s no wonder why Front Row signed both him and McDowell to contract extensions.

As a result of both RFK and Front Row’s good performances, Ford has three wins in a row. That is more wins over the last three races than Ford had in all of the first 21 races of the season. However, it does not come from the teams you may expect.

This is what makes Ford an enigma. The teams that may seem from the outside like Ford’s B-Teams are having the best seasons they have either ever had or had in years. While the teams that are the flagship teams for Ford are struggling.

Why is this the case? It’s hard to say, but Ford is certainly happy to be having success despite some struggles.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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