The Ford stable looks to close the gap with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020 but which organization is the top dog with the Blue Oval?
JGR romped its way to 19 wins last season culminating with Kyle Busch’s victory and subsequent championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Collectively the Ford stable put 10 wins on the board between Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. While Roger Penske’s three-car team combined to score six victories, Kevin Harvick’s four trips to Victory Lane represented SHR’s total.
Both organizations made significant changes in the off-season looking to up the ante in 2020. Penske shuffled all three driver-crew chief combinations giving a new look to its trio of entries. Todd Gordon is now paired with Ryan Blaney, Jeremy Bullins teams up with Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe will work with Joey Logano.
There are personnel changes at SHR as well but it goes beyond just a change in team alignment. Harvick and Rodney Childers remain together and are now the longest tenured driver-crew chief pairing in the series as they enter year nine. Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola swapped crew chiefs with Johnny Johnny Klausmeier and Mike Bugarewicz respectively inheriting new responsibilities. The fourth car has been completely revamped with Cole Custer and Mike Shiplett elevated from the Xfinity Series in the ride formerly occupied by Daniel Suarez.
So which team is poised to lead the Ford effort in 2020?
Despite having one less entry, Team Penske gets the edge. In addition to winning six times in 2019, all three drivers finished inside the top-10 of the point standings with Logano ending up just short of another Championship 4 appearance in fifth place.
Conversely SHR was all Harvick and not much else. Bowyer and Almirola slid back significantly from their 2018 performances with neither winning and combining for just ten top-five finishes. Suarez, who battled hard to make the playoffs, came up just short ending up 17th in the standings and ultimately losing his ride.
There will no doubt be a bit of a learning curve for both organizations as the chemistry and communication between the driver-crew chief changes takes hold. Penske sees no reason for immediate benefits.
“You have to look at the talent you have both on and off the track and people have been together a number of years,” Penske said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s like any person in any job, people like a change and it motivates them. We felt we had three great guys and great drivers and we said, ‘Let’s change it up this year and let’s see what happens.’ This isn’t because anybody asked for it or not.
“I think it’s good. You see people moving crew chiefs and drivers moving around, but this is part of our business plan and part of the way we run our business.”
There’s optimism in both camps the coming year will yield better results. Penske appears to be in position to lead the Ford brigade in the overall quest to derail the JGR juggernaut.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.