Nascar

Stewart-Haas Racing will boost Ford in the manufacturer battle

As we come into the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, I think one of the biggest things that on the radar screen has to be the changeover that Stewart-Haas Racing is going through, as far as making the transition from Chevrolet to Ford.

When we talk about Ford as a whole, there's been a lot of shakeups within that manufacturer.

Going all the way back to the start of 2016, Ford came out and made a commitment to NASCAR. Ford built an R&D center in Concord, N.C., that showed a lot of promise with a simulator and a lot of technology being put at the fingertips of all the teams that are associated with Ford.

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I'm really curious to see how this is going to play out because there has been a continual slide by Roush Fenway Racing and now they have totally taken a team off the board as far as the No. 16 is concerned. They leased out their charter for the No. 16, so they're down to a two-car operation this year.

And you think about it, not that many years ago, Roush was probably the key reason that NASCAR capped teams from having so many cars. At one time, Jack Roush looked like he was going to have seven or eight cars and make his juggernaut one of the most powerful organizations in our industry.

And now, this could be a do-or-die year for Roush Fenway. The sad part is, it's easy to narrow down -- it has to do with either their aero program and/or their handling program.

Because we see how well the Roush Yates engines are performing when you look over at Team Penske. They are a two-car organization that is very strong, very powerful. They won a lot of key races and were a factor going into the Chase.

Team Penske is doing what Ford wants to have with one exception: Ford is in this to win championships. They won at Le Mans last year with a great effort on the 50th anniversary of their first win there.

But it's all about manufacturer championships for Ford.

They are tired of the Bowtie -- Chevrolet -- carrying home the NASCAR Cup Manufacturers' Championships. Last year, Toyota was able to pull it off and get that championship for the first time.

It makes you wonder if a lot of people at Ford are saying, "OK, if Roush does go by the wayside, we have the potential to have seven really great teams." And if you look across the street at Toyota, they've been doing pretty fair with a seven-car operation, you might say.

It makes a lot of people pause and wonder, if something does happen to Roush Fenway, will it be a big deal?

So 2017, I think Ford the manufacturer will be somebody to watch. Because if SHR goes out and does what I think it will do, it will be competitive right out of the box. Combined with Team Penske -- not just two cars, because I consider the Wood Brothers to be a satellite organization for them -- that gives Ford seven cars that should be very, very strong.

And the oh-by-the-way should be whether or not Roush Fenway can step up to the plate and contribute to Ford's effort to regain the manufacturers' championship for the first time since 2002, which is something I think is high on their priority list.

Wins are great -- win the Daytona 500, win the Coca-Cola 600, win, win, win -- but they really want the manufacturers' championship and the driver championship to go back in their trophy case.