NASCAR Road Trip: Phoenix to Las Vegas

Manufacturer Wars: Does it really matter what emblem is on the front of your car?

[Each week our racing expert (Wayne) will bring an expanded opinion from the prior week’s race along with a brief “what to watch for” thought about the upcoming race in his “NASCAR Road Trip” series.]

For the majority of the population, there is little loyalty to car manufacturers.  It typically depends on who does the better job of marketing their cars’ features on TV commercials.  We’re constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest in gas mileage, navigation, climate control, and even cup-holders.  And the one that has the best at the time of purchase usually gets your money.

But some care so much that they’ll never even step foot in another make of car from what they drive.  While my family was never that intense, my dad liked to call himself a “Ford Guy.”  He had an old Bronco (no, it wasn’t white) as far back as I can remember that I started driving when I turned 16.  His father-in-law was always a “Chevy Guy” and, to this day, only drives something that has the Chevy bowtie on the front.  I’m glad it didn’t affect his decision to let my dad marry my mom though.  In fun, they would trade jabs like “Real men don’t wear bowties” and “FORD stands for Found On Road Dead.”   But that is nothing compared to how some in the NASCAR garage feel about their manufacturer.

Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing had been the lone elite team in Ford Racing’s stable since 2002, when Penske bolted Ford for Dodge.  Last week’s revelation that Penske Racing is rejoining Ford in 2013 was a huge log on the proverbial fire of NASCAR’s manufacturer wars.  The first sparks, however, were created by Roush reportedly instructing his teams to limit their drafting help to Ford teams leading up to last fall’s Talladega race.  While some in the media discounted this report, the closing laps proved otherwise when Trevor Bayne, in a Wood Brothers Ford, left the rear bumper of the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolet driven by Jeff Gordon to assist Roush’s Matt Kenseth-piloted Ford. Gordon would go on to finish 27th.  Nevertheless, Chevrolet driver Clint Bowyer won the race, oddly enough driving a car sponsored by Chevy’s Centennial Celebration.

But to be classified as a war, doesn’t there need to be an extended struggle between two or more sides featuring battles won by both sides?  Otherwise, it would simply be characterized as domination.  Well looking back on the last decade, the latter is exactly what NASCAR has seen in its top series.  Chevrolet has won each of the last nine Manufacturer’s Championships.  Maybe that is why Ford Racing worked so hard to lure Penske Racing, culminating only weeks before Dodge planned to unveil its 2013 Cup Series car.

If Chevrolet stumbles just a little bit, Ford looks ready to take their crown and not let go.  For some, it will be very interesting to watch how this story unfolds in the coming years.  For others, unaware that there was such a thing as a Manufacturer’s Championship in NASCAR, not much is likely to change.  But with all of the money that these manufacturers spend on their racing programs, they certainly want to see their logo up front as much as possible.  Not to mention their belief in the old saying “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” linking wins on the race track to car sales that week.

Staying in the Sand (with more bright lights… and smog):
NASCAR returns to the scene of Dan Wheldon’s fatal IndyCar crash last fall.  There will surely be many tributes during the race coverage this weekend.

Roush Fenway Racing seems to have these intermediate tracks figured out for the most part.  I’d expect all three teams to excel Sunday.

You can never count out the Busch brothers at their home track.  Kurt should nail down his first top 10 of the year, and Kyle has to be one of the favorites to win.  His JGR teammate Denny Hamlin has been on a tear in the first two races and looks more determined than ever to prove himself to the rest of the garage.  Look for another strong run by the #11 team.

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