HAMPTON, GA — Ford entered Sunday’s race having won each of the last five races in Atlanta. They’ve been the top manufacturer on the 1.54-mile Georgia track. But, after how Sunday’s Quaker State 400 went, is it time for them to hit the panic button?
See, Rodney Childers noted during his race week media availability that there’s not much that they can do to improve their cars for the rest of the 2021 season. They lost a lot of downforce between last year and this and with freezes on parts and not much development allowed this season, there’s really not much available to find the speed and downforce combination to compete like they were last year for wins.
Atlanta further showed that he’s not wrong and maybe this isn’t just a Childers-Kevin Harvick deal but rather Ford’s in general.
Ford’s were really no where to be found on Sunday afternoon on a track that they’d been so dominant at. They had just one car finish in the top eight and a combined nine laps led. All nine of those were during a pit sequence in which Aric Almirola and Cole Custer were trying to stretch their run in the second stage out in hopes of rain falling just past the halfway mark.
It didn’t work. They’d end up 17th (Custer) and 25th (Almirola). Their teammates Chase Briscoe (15th) and Harvick (11th) were also non factors as Harvick scored one lone stage point in a 10th place effort in the opening stage of the race.
What’s troublesome is, since 2012, Harvick has led 101, 0, 195, 116, 131, 292, 191, 45 and 151 laps respectively in a nine race span. In two races this year?
He led zero laps in both.
It’s not just SHR either. The Penske drivers struggled and each admitted that they’re searching for more speed still 21 races into the season.
Brad Keselowski has three top two results in his previous four starts entering 2021 at Atlanta. He was 28th in March and 10th on Sunday with zero laps led.
“Our guys had a great day on pit road and we had a great day on restarts. We just needed a little more speed.”
Joey Logano had a loose wheel in Stage 2 and was 19th, one lap down in the end.
“We weren’t bad today overall from a handing perspective, I’d say we just lacked some overall speed and put ourselves a touch behind when we had to pit early in the second stage,” he said. “We had a better run going than where we finished but the last five laps I started to have a right side tire come apart.”
Ryan Blaney won the spring race but was 14th in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2 and fifth in the end but he also mentioned that the speed is lacking still on their end.
“We got our best at the end,” said Blaney. “We didn’t start off very good. It was a long day of working on our race car and finally at the end we got going a little bit better. I was super tight all day and couldn’t really do anything. I was worried about cording right-front tires and we just kept taking pretty big swings at it. We still didn’t really get it to where we needed at the end, but, overall, not a bad day for our group.
“We’ve still got to find a little bit of speed, though. … I definitely think we’ve got to find some speed. None of us have won a race in a while and, honestly, we haven’t really been leading laps and running up front. We’ve been lacking, so we’re getting better, that’s for sure. It’s just little, tiny baby steps. I want to be winning races next week. I want us to make huge gains, but that’s not what this game is anymore. It’s tiny, little things that you find over weeks and weeks and apply them. I think we’re heading in the right direction, but we still got a little bit to go.”
With the new car coming out next year and these cars going to start needing built here soon, how much can they really do this season to catch up to the Chevy and Toyota cars now?
Penske is slumping overall too with Keselowski now having finished 10th or worse in 9 of his last 10. Logano has one top five in his last seven and three in the last 12 with Blaney having just two top five finishes since his Atlanta win and both are fifth place runs.
Chevrolet has seen Hendrick Motorsports rise in performance and now they’re being joined by Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing) as well as Richard Childress Racing’s tandem too. Toyota’s are quick with three cars in the top eight on Sunday and if not for a speeding penalty by Denny Hamlin it would have been all four JGR cars in the top 10 this weekend too.
Ford’s have fallen to third in the pecking order and I’m not sure if they have enough time to recapture their magic. They won 18 times a year ago, 10 times in 2019 and 19 times in 2018. They’ve had just four wins in 21 races this year.