Sports

CUP: Can Ford Challenge For Cup Title?

Last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Ford Racing director Jamie Allison shared a press-conference stage with several of the car builder’s key drivers – drag racing icon John Force, drifting champion Vaughn Gittin Jr., rally star Ken Block and X Games medalist Tanner Foust.

The topics were Ford’s motorsports success and its champions.

Unfortunately, Allison was not able to make room on the podium for a Ford Sprint Cup champion, simply because there isn’t one. There wasn’t even a Ford driver in the hunt for the Cup championship on a weekend in which three stars of the sport were wrestling for the title, one eventually won – again – by Chevrolet’s Jimmie Johnson.

Ford has not won the Sprint Cup championship since Kurt Busch, now a Dodge driver, scored for team owner Jack Roush in 2004, the first year of the Chase format.

Ford went deep into this season – Aug. 1 at Pocono – before scoring its first win of the year, a breakthrough victory by Greg Biffle. The manufacturer ended the season with four total wins, including two in the final two races by Carl Edwards.

Although it wasn’t in the race for the championship, Ford did put Roush Fenway Racing drivers Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Biffle in the fourth through sixth positions in the final standings.

While acknowledging Ford has some ground to make up, Allison said he is encouraged by the Blue Oval’s late-season rally.

“I wish the season didn’t end,” Allison said. “Just when we’re getting our groove, just when we’re getting our mojo, just when we start winning… Look what we’ve accomplished over the last third of the season. We’re snagging poles, we’re fastest in practice, we’re running up front, we’re in the front row of many races.

“It really is a sign that we really have this thing sorted out, but this is a sport where the competition never rests, so I hope we can start the season the way we ended this one. If we can do that, I hope we can contend for the championship.

“But you’re dealing with the best of the best. The Gibbs program. The Hendrick program. When you have those two at the top of their game, you just have to keep dialing it up.”

Ford has been hampered to a degree this season by the fact that it has only two full-time, high-level team operations – Roush Fenway and RPM Motorsports, and RPM has been handicapped by a difficult financial situation that put the team’s future in serious doubt.

Now it appears that RPM will open the 2011 season on relatively sound footing, having dropped from four drivers to two – AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

Allison said Ford is a stakeholder in RPM’s success and that the manufacturer has done what it could to assist minority owner Richard Petty in stabilizing the operation.

With Ford’s new engine having shown improved performance during the stretch of its first season, Allison said his teams are ready to challenge.

“Carl’s on a roll,” he said. “Biffle’s on a roll. We’ve had some mechanical problems, and that’s not acceptable. We’ve got to get rid of them. But I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this year. I’m proud of how we ended up. We’re ready to go.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.