A second-place finish Sunday didn’t change Greg Biffle’s concern about Ford’s slow progress with NASCAR’s new Generation-6 race car.
Jimmie Johnson won at the Pocono Raceway, giving Chevrolet seven victories in 14 races this year. Toyota has five wins, while Ford is a distant third among the sport’s three manufacturers with two wins – and one of those was provided by David Ragan in an improbable finish at the Talladega Superspeedway.
Ford teams, especially Roush Fenway Racing, are working overtime trying to close the competitive gap. While there have been glimpses of success, Chevrolet and Toyota still seem to have a clear advantage.
“We probably need to work on our car a little bit better,” Biffle said. “We’ve still got a little bit of work to do. We’re not quite there yet. Clearly, we’re not celebrating that we finished second [last Sunday] quite yet and have our cars figured out, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
The new Fusion looks better than its older predecessor, but finding suspension setups to fit the different aerodynamic package has been challenge. Chevrolet teams, especially Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, have been quicker to find fast setups. So has Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Ford believes it’s making a lot of progress. But it can’t come quick enough for everyone in the Ford camp.
“If the Chase started right now, I think we’d be in a little bit of trouble,” Carl Edwards said. “I don’t think we are as fast as we need to be and the way we look at it is we’re not getting beat by a driver or a crew chief, we’re getting beat by organizations. The Gibbs cars are very fast. The Hendrick cars are very fast right now, so we have to figure out as an organization how we just get that little extra bit.”
Johnson and Kenseth lead the Sprint Cup Series with three wins apiece. Johnson drives a Chevrolet; Kenseth moved from a Roush Ford to one of Gibbs’ Toyotas this season.
“We know that there is some parameter that we’re missing,” Edwards said. “The elephant in the room is that Matt Kenseth leaves and he runs really well at a different organization. Not that Matt didn’t run well at Roush, but we know that we can perform at that level. So what we have to do is figure out what we’re doing differently.
“We just need to turn the ship a little bit and head the right direction and I think we’ll be good.”
DIALING BACK: After losing 17 engines during the first 13 races, Toyota Racing Development dialed back on its horsepower in an effort to improve durability. Based on Sunday’s race at Pocono, Pa., it might have gone too far.
While there was only one reported engine failure by Toyota teams – Joe Nemechek generally starts-and-parks and he listed engine as the reason for going to the garage area in 42nd place – Kyle Busch (sixth place) and Denny Hamlin (eighth) were the only Toyota drivers among the top 14 finishers.
Toyota plans to use the same horsepower-reduction package for Sunday’s race at the Michigan International Speedway.
“I think TRD (Toyota Racing Development) has identified the issues,” Hamlin said. “They brought us all together and talked about our short and long term plan to fix it. So, they’re going to do everything they can.
“Now we have to dial it back some and see what the payoff is from power to reliability because ultimately with this points system you have to finish these races and that’s what all the teams identify.”
PIT STOPS: JTG Daugherty Racing isn’t ready to fire Bobby Labonte, but the team does want a fresh idea from A.J. Allmendinger to get their No. 47 Toyota up to speed. Allmendinger will drive the car at this Sunday’s race at the Michigan International Speedway and again a week later at Sonoma, Calif. The team said Labonte will return to the driver’s seat June 29 at the Kentucky Speedway … FOX finished its racing season with an average 4.8 rating for its 13-race schedule which proved to be higher than NBA Conference Finals (4.5 rating), according to Nielsen Media Research. Ratings also improved by seven percent compared to last year’s numbers in the nation’s 56 biggest television markets. TNT started its six-race run last week at Pocono, Pa.