Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – A day of birthday celebrations brought good news for NASCAR and one of its most venerable teams.
Owner Jack Roush marked his 76th birthday on the Roush Fenway Racing campus two days before the actual April 19 date at an announcement of long-term sponsorship renewals from Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank and Sunny D.
The birthday cake featured a “Cat in the Hat” motif, an homage to the fedora that’s as integral a part of Roush’s persona as his unwavering loyalty to Ford Motor Company.
The backdrop for the Roush celebration was an announcement earlier on Tuesday that Ford will replace the Fusion with the Mustang in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season, bringing a “pony car” to compete against Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1 in NASCAR’s top division.
Tuesday also marked the 54th birthday of the Mustang, which debuted to enormous fanfare in 1964. Roush remembers clearly the first Mustang he bought as the start of a long love affair with the brand.
“I graduated from college in May of ’64 and went to work for Ford in Dearborn (Mich.) in June of ’64,” Roush said. “I bought my first Mustang right out of college. I worked my way through school and had enough money to buy a new car and pay for it.
“And I bought a new Mustang off the dealer’s floor, before I knew I was going to go work for Ford. I worked in the plant as we built cars and solved problems in ’64, ’65 and ’66, and then I started racing Mustangs in ’66 and had a lot of success drag racing and a lot of success road racing. To be able to carry that iconic brand to the Cup series is really just the next opportunity.”
Chevrolet brought the Camaro to Cup competition this year, but in the seven races after Austin Dillon’s dramatic victory in the Daytona 500, Chevrolet hasn’t found pay dirt. Roush, however, doesn’t expect the transition to the new Ford nameplate in 2019 to be a difficult one.
“I don’t expect to struggle,” Roush said. “This business today is more about people. The position that your engineering manager has and the depth of experience and potential that the working engineers have… the way NASCAR’s got the rule book so fat, and they’ve got this Hawk-Eye system (Optical Scanning Station).
“With so much coverage of the body we didn’t have before, the strength of the people is what you see in the programs more than the difference in the hardware.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the beneficiary of the sponsorship extensions announced Tuesday, won his two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships in 2011 and 2012 behind the wheel of a Mustang.
“Winning races and winning championships in Mustangs, it’ll be cool to get back in a Mustang,” said Stenhouse, fresh from a fourth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. “It took me two or three years to get used to calling the Ford a Fusion, and now we’re going back to the Mustang.
“All in all, these partners’ color schemes and paint schemes will look good on the Mustang, and hopefully we can get back to our winning ways in those Mustangs, for sure.”
Like Roush, Stenhouse expects a stress-free transition to the pony car.
“This year, we’ve been pretty encouraged at what the other Ford teams can do on the other mile-and-a-half race tracks,” Stenhouse told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Seeing that we’re the last car (brand) to change our bodies and really change them up, I’m encouraged at what all we’ve learned and what we feel like we need in our Mustang.
“Come 2019, I’m really wanting us to get our program to the highest level that we can, because I feel like, when we switch to the Mustang in ’19, it’s going to continue to elevate our program. I think Ford’s done their homework and research, and the teams have given a ton of input—Stewart-Haas, Penske, ourselves—and really put a big collaboration in with Ford to get these cars where we want ‘em.
“So I’m excited for 2019, for sure.”