Do the Fords Have a Championship Contender in Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski? The Manufacturer War Explained

Published 10/05/2023, 5:14 AM EDT

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Which manufacturer in NASCAR is the best? Now that is one question the NASCAR nation has asked themselves countless times in the past. While the all-American manufacturers, Chevrolet, and Fords have always had an advantage in the sport, the recent trends in the sport suggest something peculiar.

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Ever since the arrival of the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, Toyota into the world of Stock Car Racing, things have shaken up pretty intensely. The Japanese manufacturer even has 3 titles in the organization’s top tier division, with Kyle Busch racking up 2 titles and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr racking 1 for himself.

Even though Toyota has made a name for themselves, they are still outpointed and outnumbered by the manufacturer war between the American brands – Chevrolet and Ford. And among the two behemoths, the Chevrolets have a clear edge over the Fords. One look at Ford’s 2023 resume and the difference is clear. Mainstream Ford teams like Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske have fallen behind the chase miserably. At the same time, the proud Chevy camp, Hendrick Motorsports racked up their 300th Cup Series win emphatically in Texas.

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Fortunately for Ford fans, things aren’t all bad. While the top teams met their match, Brad Keselowski co-owned RFK Racing has restored their hopes. Now, the question that lingers in NASCAR nation is, can Keselowski and the remaining Team Penske car reclaim Ford’s lost crown?

2023 NASCAR Cup Series – Ford’s agonizing fall from grace

After a great 2022 campaign with Joey Logano going on to win the title, Ford’s downfall has certainly been a shocker for fans. In fact, following Logano’s title win, Ford-powered cars have had a tough time, hanging in with the fast Chevys and the ever-consistent Toyotas. While the RFK Racing cars defied all odds, giving Ford fans a glimmer of hope, Team Penske cars including the championship car of Logano struggled to find their rhythm.

Both Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing cars looked like the skeletons of their former self when put along with other manufacturers. In fact, until Ryan Blaney’s monumental Coca-Cola 600 triumph in Charlotte, the all-American manufacturer had just 1 win to their name. To make matters worse, as we reach the 2nd playoff eliminator in Roval, Charlotte, 2 Cup Series champions got knocked out including the reigning champion, Logano.

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2014 Cup Series champion, Kevin Harvick and Logano were ousted in the first eliminator in Bristol. The agony doesn’t stop there. All 4 drivers that were eliminated rode Ford, and that includes the Indy conqueror, Michael McDowell, who showed that his FRM Ford can do more than hang in with the top dogs.

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The downfall was so steep that the current Cup Series rankings have the seemingly newcomer Toyota best Ford in terms of points to the third and last spot. While NASCAR’s most successful manufacturer, Chevrolet leads the table with 15 wins to their name, Ford has only 7. More distressing is the fact that SHR – a primary Ford team fielding 4 cars had to exit the tournament without a single win!

Ford’s struggle with the Next-Gen cars

The organization’s effort to introduce Next-Gen cars was met with both applause and boos. The safer new generation cars offered more dynamics in terms of handling but were criticized for their rigidity as drivers involved in crashes mentioned the cars’ peculiar nature. However, considering the safety they offer NASCAR introduced the Next-Gen cars in 2022.

The sanctioning body even allowed each Cup Series manufacturer to adjust its product’s front end and cooling packages for 2023. While this gave Chevrolet and Toyota an edge as they quickly adopted newer strategies, Ford got caught in the rut. Recalling Logano’s admission earlier this year, the manufacturer’s negligence and inability to foresee the developments were pretty apparent.

He said, “We didn’t maximize as well as we needed to.” Furthermore, he exposed the manufacturer’s vulnerability that has now got its team in a major crisis. “We’re constantly looking for improvements and how we can make our cars better just like everybody else’s, but we’re starting a little bit behind. It doesn’t mean we can’t win races. It just means we have to be perfect. We’re lacking downforce,” said the 2022 Cup Series champion without hesitation.

The greatest rivalries – Chevrolet vs. Ford

The war for supremacy between the American manufacturers Ford and Chevrolet has always captivated the NASCAR community. Chevrolet has had the upper hand almost every single time. For instance, compare the top teams of each manufacturer – HMS for Chevy and SHR or Team Penske for Ford and one will notice the striking difference.

To say the least, Chevrolet is, in fact, NASCAR’s most successful manufacturer, winning the manufacturer’s title a whopping 41 times to become the category leader. Of course, the drivers have a significant role in this. While the great Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon all rode a Chevy into the victory lane, Ford’s flag bearers were Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett, and the RFK Racing co-owner, Brad Keselowski, etc.

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However, the numbers point towards Chevy’s side when it comes to winning. They have amassed more than 800 Cup Series wins compared to Ford’s 700+ wins and 17 championship titles.

Can Keselowski and Blaney make the Ford camp proud, bringing them a title?

If it’s a matter of pride, then Brad Keselowski has already made the Ford camp proud. The veteran along with his driver, Chris Buescher, are the only drivers who have shone in the dark. The RFK Racing duo even finished a picture-perfect race, coming first and second with Keselowski propelling his driver into the finish line.

The 2012 Cup Series champion, Keselowski‘s involvement in the team and its turnaround in the current season is a folklore in the NASCAR nation. Ever since he bought into the team, Keselowski has been a major driving force that has kept the fire burning in the once prominent team that lost its way in the fray. They even got a back-to-back finish in Richmond and Michigan.

Compared to SHR and Team Penske, Buescher‘s #17 team has had far more success, giving the Ford fans a new ray of hope. Not only were the wins spectacular, but it encompassed almost all the track we have currently in NASCAR. Buescher’s first win of the season came at the 0.75-mile short track in Richmond, followed by a speedway clinic in MIS. To top it all off, he repeated his success, acing the crown jewel race in Daytona to blast his way into the playoffs.

Now that’s something Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney is yet to showcase in his 2023 run. Even his teammate Logano credited RFK Racing for their impressive run. He said, “They’re just doing it in a different way right as far as the way they set up their cars and the little odds and ends things little tricky stuff that they’re able to just somehow put together a better package right now. They are faster than us right now.” 

He further added, saying, “So yeah, all hands on deck to try to figure that out of what it is. But it’s, they have the same golf club, they’re holding in a different way. Right? And they’re swinging it better.” 

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The only question that remains is whether will Keselowski and Blaney (who just won at Talladega to advance) be Ford’s saviors. Will they be Ford’s championship contenders? Well, the answer might depress you but Blaney’s chances to make the final 4 are narrow, considering that his wins came at high-flowing tracks including Charlotte and Talladega.

On the other hand, the RFK cars are more balanced with both agility and pace on offer, giving the #6 and #17 cars a better chance to fare against the superior Chevys and Toyotas in the final run.

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Written by:

Kishore R

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Kishore is a Content Analyst for NASCAR at EssentiallySports. With a degree in engineering, Kishore's love for automobiles, particularly the roaring naturally aspirated V8s, naturally led him to wander into the high-speed world of NASCAR. Kishore's writing is characterized by his intense passion for the sport, as well as his ability to conduct in-depth research and analysis.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh

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