Ford Performance was not the best manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023 and admittedly had its fair share of struggles.
But when all was said and done, and the championship trophy handed out Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, Ford driver Ryan Blaney was the last man standing. Blaney finished second in the season finale, ahead of rivals Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Christopher Bell to earn his first championship and the second consecutive for Ford.
Ford won eight races this year. Blaney was responsible for three of them.
“We entered (the postseason) in Cup with more drivers than Chevy and Toyota to start, but then we lost more in the first round going from 16 to 12,” Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said. “We were on the other side of it. That is what makes this playoff format exciting, is those cutoffs where you’re cutting every three races four of the drivers.
“You’ve got to peak at the right time and have the right finishes at the right time. Especially for the 12 car and Team Penske – they came on strong, winning at Talladega. Then really strong again at Miami-Homestead, winning at Martinsville and strong again [in Phoenix].”
When the postseason started, Ford had six drivers in championship contention: Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher and Blaney. Three of those drivers – Blaney, Buescher and Keselowski – finished the year in the top 10 in points.
It was a season where Ford was constantly questioned about its deficiencies, particularly on downforce racetracks. Rushbrook, however, remained steady in his conviction that the company would find areas to improve and help its race teams, going as far as to compare it to 2022, when Ford faced similar challenges but wound up victorious with Joey Logano.
“I feel like we work so hard every year,” Rushbrook said. “Everyone does, right? That’s what NASCAR racing is. When you do have struggles early in the season, it does make you, at some level, dig deeper and work harder. It stresses relationships, for sure. Ultimately you come back together as family and partners and get through it.”
Logano won Ford’s first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring. The second victory didn’t come until Memorial Day weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 with Blaney.
And yet, Ford didn’t just walk away on top Sunday night. Ford swept the weekend with driver champions in all three NASCAR national series – the first manufacturer to do so since Chevrolet in 2001.
“All three national series are so competitive, you’ve got to be on your game for every element of the program, whether it’s the engine, the chassis, the setup, the aero, the driver, the pit crew, everything has got to be right,” Rushbrook said. “Yeah, we did struggle for sure, especially in Cup early on certain style tracks. All of our racing teams working together, nobody gave up, they kept digging, certainly came on strong, especially with Team Penske and the 12 car through the playoffs. We had some strength with RFK (Racing) through the season.
“We’ve had seasons where we won a lot of races and not won a championship. That’s been a disappointment. We didn’t win as many races as we would have liked to this year, but to win three championships just makes a statement about the team we have in Ford Performance, but the partnership and the family that we have racing our cars and trucks on track.”