Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – As has become tradition during the season-opening Daytona Speedweeks, NASCAR’s three manufacturers address the press corps and share their expectations for the upcoming NASCAR racing schedule.
On Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, joined NASCAR Cup Series owners Jack Roush, Tony Stewart, Eddie Wood and Team Penske executive Walt Czarnecki to take questions and discuss the 2020 season.
It’s the second year Ford has used its Mustang in the Cup Series ranks, and Rushbrook was especially optimistic about having a year under the belt with the new model, which won 10 of the 36 races and put Kevin Harvick in the Championship 4 that ultimately decided the 2019 title.
“Now to be back in the second year with that Mustang, the teams have all been working really hard through the off-season, taking advantage of the tools and advancing the aerodynamics of that Mustang, the chassis setup using the simulator,” Rushbrook said. “I think we’ve had more time in the simulator in this off-season than we have had ever before.
“From what we’ve seen so far at Daytona, it’s early, but saw a lot of speed in the cars, teams working across the Ford drivers, communication across the teams. We’re excited about that.”
Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race Thursday night. And there are five Fords in the top-10 starting positions – tied with Chevrolet for most among the three makes.
These owners discussed the approach they expect for much of the season with Ford competitors working as smaller teams working for a common manufacturer – and common goal.
“The thing that all of our drivers think about each weekend if it’s not our day, we can’t win, how do we help another one of these Ford teams win the race each weekend,” said Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
“If it’s not our day, we can’t win, how do we help another one of these Ford teams win the race each weekend. That’s how dedicated and passionate we are to put that blue oval in Victory Lane every week. That’s something that’s a major priority to all of our drivers and organizations, is making sure we all work together.
“We’re at a track here this weekend that’s a very, very huge priority for all of our Ford teams to work together. Even on the races outside of the restrictor plate races, we think that way as well.”
CHASE BRISCOE HAS GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR 2020 NASCAR XFINITY SEASON
Stewart-Hass Racing driver Chase Briscoe posted one NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in each of the last two seasons.
Should he duplicate that performance in the 2020 season, however, the 25-year old Mitchell, Indiana, native would consider it a failure.
“Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of my make-or-break season,” said Briscoe, who will drive SHR’s only Xfinity Series entry, now that Cole Custer has advanced to the NASCAR Cup Series. “This is the first year I feel like I haven’t had that excuse of I don’t have the experience anymore, because I finally have that.
“Ford has obviously spent a lot of money on me in the past and really trying to develop me and I feel like this is finally my time to show that I’m here to win races.”
With Custer, Christopher Bell, two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Namecheck all stepping up to NASCAR’s premier series, Briscoe sees nothing but opportunity ahead.
“Cole won seven (races) last year, and obviously with the Big Three guys going, it opens up a lot more opportunities to win races. I felt like at the end of last season we were battling with them for wins quite a bit, so I feel like if we do our jobs, then there’s no reason why we can’t go win eight to 10 races.
“Obviously, I’m not going to say it’s a failure if we win six or whatever, but I feel like we certainly, if we do our job right, we can win eight to 10 races, and I’m confident with that statement.”
BRANDON JONES IS TAKING AGGRESSIVE APPROACH TO DAYTONA RACE
Joe Gibbs Racing driver used to think aggression was the quick way to calamity in superspeedway racing. Then he made a careful study and found otherwise.
“This year especially, I put a lot of time into kind of going back and studying,” said Jones, who hopes to use his knowledge to advantage in Saturday’s NASCAR Racing Experience 300 Xfinity Series race (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Watching some fast races, and you see (Tyler) Reddick doing it so well, and I always thought in the past in practice that—I’m like Reddick is going to wreck the field doing this—but what you saw was him putting himself in race-position moves and he was really aggressive on those side-drafts and at the end of the race.
“He knew what he needed to do to win the thing. That was some stuff that I picked up on, and I was trying get in practice (on Friday). Also, things like keeping your car poked out to see how the runs were getting – things like that. I played around with that a bunch, and I think I’ve got a decent idea now of what we need to do.”
And that translates to calculated aggression.
“For sure,” said Jones, who is starting his fifth full Xfinity season. “There’s a lot of times you hear guys, especially rookies, coming into these races saying they just want to paint that bottom line–they just want to stay on that bottom, and I just don’t think that’s how you win the race. That’s how you be a consistent finisher and maybe get a top five, top 10 out of the deal.
“But if you want to win the thing, you’ve got to try to make those last-minute moves and pull out and try to suck those guys back side-drafting. It’s tough now, because we have so many good cars out there racing that almost no one wants to go with you anymore. You have to figure out how to do it yourself. You have to figure out how to leap-frog those cars and start working side-draft really aggressive.”
WILLIAM BYRON’S DUEL VICTORY BRINGS OPTIMISM TO NO. 24 TEAM
In winning Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Dual 2 race, 22-year old Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron hoisted the first trophy of his burgeoning three-year NASCAR Cup Series career.
After celebrating in Daytona International Speedway’s famous Victory Lane, Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus came into the Media Center to discuss the big accomplishment and both Byron and Knaus – who led Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson to seven Cup championships – shared that the victory felt like a turning point in their relationship—not to mention Byron’s career.
“I think it’s all about working with Chad and feeling like I can go to him with any question I have and give him an honest answer on any answer that he needs,” Byron said. “That’s a big step in the relationship right here.
“There’s really no other relationship out there besides you and your guys and your crew chief. I think that’s where the confidence for me comes from. What he said about it being a journey, we just don’t stop here. This is kind of a result that we can put up on the board now in the shop and say, ‘Okay, now we actually have something to show for what we think we’ve been able to do lately.'”
Knaus came over to Byron’s No. 24 team last season, and the performance curve was immediately affected. In their very first outing together, Byron won the 2019 Daytona 500 pole position, then earned his first-ever Cup Series top five, a runner-up showing in the July Daytona 400-mile race. Byron finished with five top fives on the season – including another second-place effort at Martinsville, Va., during the Playoffs; the first time he qualified for the Playoff field.
His 13 top-10 efforts last year was three times the number he earned in his 2018 rookie season. Four times he earned back-to-back top-10 finishes in races. And his five pole positions were bettered only by veteran champion Kevin Harvick.
Knaus was as encouraged by Thursday’s night’s Duel win as Byron. The standards for this team have always been high, but realistic. But in the wake of Thursday’s accomplishment, there is an unmistakable air of optimism and can-do heading into this week’s Daytona 500, and beyond.
“Whenever you win, you’re excited, right?” Knaus said. “I don’t know if it’s validation. I think validation will be when we go out there and we’re battling consistently for wins and top fives. That’s what we’re after, right?
“It’s real easy to make the checkered flag the goal in this sport. That’s just a part of the journey, right? The goal is to really get the team working correctly, give William the confidence level, performing where he needs to.”
“And that there,” Knaus said of the exuberance in Victory Lane, “Was a little bit of happiness we got a flag.”