By NOAH TRISTER
The Associated Press
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Yes, victory lane this season has been dominated by Joe Gibbs’ Toyotas, but this weekend the NASCAR Cup Series is in Michigan.
That means Ford’s drivers should be motivated — and history suggests they’ll be tough to beat.
“I had the privilege of having dinner with the Ford family [Thursday] night,” Brad Keselowski said. “All the Ford drivers got together to do that at the Henry Ford estate in Dearborn. While we were there, Mr. Edsel Ford, or as we like to call him, The Godfather of Ford Performance, got up and gave a speech. One of the things he said was that Ford’s winning percentage here was almost 50 percent at the Cup level.”
Ford won both Michigan Cup races last year, when Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer prevailed. Joe Gibbs Racing already has nine victories this season, but Gibbs only has one win in the last 14 races at Michigan. That came courtesy of Matt Kenseth in 2015. It’s been — perhaps fittingly — a Ford and Chevy show since then.
“I think as you look at this particular race track, obviously Ford is not far from here and there is a great significance from the Ford Motor Company and the executives at Ford to win,” Harvick said. “As you look at getting to victory lane at Michigan, it is the same urgency as it was last year and we did well at that.”
Harvick is winless this year, but Keselowski has three victories. With Keselowski’s wins and a victory by Joey Logano at Las Vegas, Team Penske has won almost all the Cup races not won by JGR. Only JGR’s Kyle Busch has more victories than Keselowski.
Saturday seemed especially encouraging for Ford, which had eight of the top 10 spots in qualifying. Logano took the pole for today’s race.
That’s only a start, though. JGR hasn’t won any poles this season, and that hasn’t held those drivers back much. Ford has plenty of work still to do if it wants to repeat its success from last year.
Today’s race is the 100th at Michigan for NASCAR’s top series. The first was 50 years ago this month, when Cale Yarborough won the Motor State 500 in a Mercury. Nostalgia aside, this is a big weekend. A few years ago, MIS began presenting the Michigan Heritage trophy to winning manufacturers at the track, adding still more incentive.
“You forget the significance of individual races sometimes, especially in the middle of the season, and what they mean to different people,” Keselowski said. “To the manufacturers that have for so long been the lifeblood of our sport and are based here out of Detroit, it means the world to them to have success in front of their executive teams and core employees, both white-collar and blue-collar.”
That’s probably been obvious for a while, but this week’s dinner clearly left an impression on some of Ford’s top drivers.
“There are certain things in life that just hit you. Those surreal moments,” Bowyer said. “I was texting my father and a guy that means a lot to me and is really close to him and has been around hot rods and drag racing all my life, my whole upbringing. I’m like, ‘You’re never going to believe this. I’m at Henry Ford’s estate with his great-grandson Edsel as a host at a dinner.’ … There’s always incentive. It goes without saying.”