By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If there truly is strength in numbers, then Ford's presence in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has grown in magnitude with the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing's four-car organization.
The benefit was immediately obvious.
Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas, driving a Ford in the heat of battle for the first time, helped former nemesis Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski break up a four-car Toyota train at the front of the field in last Saturday's Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, the season-opening exhibition race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
When Keselowski tangled with Toyota driver Denny Hamlin on the final lap, Logano was in position to collect the victory.
Team Penske owner Roger Penske, who fields the Fords driven by Logano and Keselowski, was quick to acknowledge the new partnership.
"Obviously, the win the other night was good, and I guess we've got to give Kevin a big thanks for helping us get that win, so the partnership has really paid off," Penske said Saturday during a press conference that also featured team owners Jack Roush and Tony Stewart, as well as Raj Nair, executive vice president of global product development and chief technology officer for Ford Motor Company.
As the 2017 season begins to unfold, teamwork has been the emphasis among the marquee Ford organizations of Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.
For one thing, they all get their engines from the same source-Roush Yates Engines, headed by premier engine builder Doug Yates.
"People ask me how do the Ford teams work together and, of course, the last thing I tell them, which is the most important thing, is that we race in the margins for things beyond the sheet metal and beyond the support that we get (from Ford) with the simulator and the simulation," Roush said.
"We've got to hold close to the vest the things that the drivers want to do within the cockpit by themselves, but the cooperation over wind tunnel and cooperation for rules with NASCAR, the cooperation on the engine things that Doug Yates benefits greatly from the input he gets back from the drivers, and I can't be the only guy that's out there saying, 'Doug, we need to be thinking about this or we need to consider this other thing.'
"I appreciate all the support I get from Roger and his drivers. Roger initially thought he might be making a mistake by not doing his own engine thing. Are we doing OK with that, Roger?"
Replied Penske: "I think it's the best move we ever made."
Stewart-Haas had the biggest hill to climb during the offseason with the transition from Chevrolet to Ford.
"Everybody at SHR did a great job with the switch-over, and everyone at Ford Performance did an awesome job just helping with that transition," Stewart said.
"Like Jack and Roger already mentioned, the simulation, the wind tunnel, the simulator -- all those tools that we have available to us -- have really, really helped bridge that gap and shorten the learning curve for us.
"Coming down here to Daytona, it's been pretty nice up to this point to have four drivers that are really happy with their cars. We'll need to check about halfway through the race and see how happy they are, but, up to this point, they're really, really excited. Kevin, Kurt (Busch), Clint (Bowyer), Danica (Patrick)-they've all been really, really happy and pleased with what we've got this year."
SHR, Roush and Penske aren't the only Ford teams on the track. The roster also includes the Wood Brothers, Richard Petty Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports.
Ford drivers have won four of the last eight Daytona 500s, and Nair believes 2017 presents another excellent opportunity.
"We're really looking forward to the weekend," Nair said. "We've done a lot of work in the offseason with the teams on the cars, but obviously we've got a few more bullets in our gun this year with the addition of Stewart-Haas, (along with) Penske, Roush-Fenway, RPM, Wood Brothers, Front Row.
"We're feeling pretty good about our chances on track this weekend."