To preview the Daytona 500 and the 2020 season, we’re joined here on the stage by Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports; Tony Stewart from Stewart‑Haas Racing; Eddie Wood from Wood Brothers Racing; Walt Czarnecki, senior vice president of Penske Corporation; and Jack Roush from Roush‑Fenway Racing.
Mark, Ford had notable success in 2019 across all three national NASCAR series. Looking at 2020, strong driver lineup, couple Rookie of the Year candidates, what are your expectations for this season?
MARK RUSHBROOK, GLOBAL DIRECTOR, FORD PERFORMANCE: “We’re really excited to be back here and racing again. As you said, the success in 2019 with the wins that we had, with the first year that we had with the new Mustang, to now be back second year with that Mustang, the teams have all been working really hard through the off‑season, taking advantage of the tools and advancing the aerodynamics of that Mustang, the chassis setup using the simulator. I think we’ve had more time in the simulator in this off‑season than we have ever had before. From what we’ve seen so far at Daytona, it’s early, saw a lot of speed in the cars, teams working across the Ford drivers, communication across the teams. We’re excited about that. Some changes in the teams with the driver lineup and the crew chiefs. I think it’s been a win‑win from everything that we’ve seen lining up the right people, the right crew chiefs with the right drivers, seeing that pay off this season. Certainly with the success that we had with Cole Custer and Stewart‑Haas stepping up from Xfinity to Cup this year, excited about that. Even the Xfinity Series, to have Austin Cindric back and Chase Briscoe back running in that series, a lot of excitement there. Looking for some success out of those guys.”
For each of the owners, I’ll ask you each to respond to this. You all four have great legacies in the sport. You know how important it is to have a great partnership. Talk a little bit about how you’ve worked with Ford to build successful programs, what your expectations are for the 2020 season.
JACK ROUSH, ROUSH FENWAY RACING: “We’re anxious to take advantage of the many tools in Ford’s great toolbox. This is my 33rd year of coming to Daytona for the 500. We look forward to bringing Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman to have some success.Jimmy Fennig has done a great job with the cars, Doug Yates has done a great job with the engines. A matter of teamwork, everybody be willing to pull together, accept the reality if they can’t win on a given day, they can help another Ford driver win.”
TONY STEWART, STEWART-HAAS RACING: “That’s the cool thing of what we do with Ford, like Jack mentioned. The thing that all of our drivers think about each weekend, if it’s not our day, we can’t win, how do we help another one of these Ford teams win the race each weekend. That’s how dedicated and passionate we are to put that blue oval in Victory Lane every week. That’s something that’s a major priority to all of our drivers and organizations, is making sure we all work together. We’re at a track here this weekend that’s a very, very huge priority for all of our Ford teams to work together. Even on the races outside of the restrictor plate races, we think that way as well. It’s exactly like Jack mentioned and the rest of these guys are going to say, too, we have a lot of great resources with Ford that they give to us. They are very hands on of wanting to know what they can do to help you, help all of our teams, all of our organizations be better. It’s great to have a partner like that, that is that engaged. It’s not just, Here is a check, here are some tools, go have fun, win us some races. These guys are very active and proactive about helping us all be better and more successful than we were the year before and helping push us to make our programs better. It’s exciting for us. It’s great to have a partner like this that we feel is really a part of our family and how much they welcomed us into their family. We’re looking forward to it.”
WALT CZARNECKI, TEAM PENSKE: “I can echo Tony and Jack. This is our eighth year with Ford. I can honestly say the relationship that Mark and his team have developed with not only us but across the spectrum of what we do from a technical, marketing standpoint, overall support standpoint has never been better from Team Penske’s perspective. Tony made a comment, it struck me over the last couple of years the way the Ford teams have worked together. Early on when I think we did an alliance with you, Jack, on some wind tunnel things early on, when we came onboard with Roush, that was the very beginning of it. Now we seem to be working with all the other teams in a variety of enterprises. That’s due to the fact that Ford has made it very clear this is one Ford, that it’s one team, and as Tony just said, watching the race last night, I think Joey said he wouldn’t have won that race without the help provided to him. I don’t know if it will be the same on Sunday, and it shouldn’t be. By the same token, I think that was indicative and illustrative of what we’re talking about here. There’s been a real I’ll use the term ‘camaraderie’ that’s been built and a business relationship that’s been productive to everybody.”
EDDIE WOOD, WOOD BROTHERS RACING: “Yeah, I agree with what Walt and Tony just mentioned, the togetherness, the camaraderie, one Ford is really probably the easiest way to say it. I was sitting here counting up on my fingers. I think this is my 48th Daytona 500 in a row. I’ve been coming here a long time. We’ve always raced Fords. The last few years the way that Ford has brought everyone together, like they already said, you feel like everybody is your teammate. That’s a really good feeling. Just like last night, we drafted a lot with Harvick and Cole. The other Fords were in the first race. That was really the three we had, but they did a really good job with only three cars. You have that feeling every week, if you can’t win, as long as one of those guys win, it’s okay. I think that’s a testament to Mark and all the leadership at Ford Motor Company in bringing everyone together. Getting a bunch of racers together, making them really do it… It’s easy to get everybody in a room and say, You’re going to do this, we’re all going to do this, everybody agrees to it. When the flag drops, some of that used to go away, but it doesn’t now. I think everybody respects their teammates, whether it’s in your organization or not, everybody has a respect for each other. It all starts with Ford Motor Company.”
JACK ROUSH: “Far be it for me to correct Walt Czarnecki, but Walt Czarnecki has some history, and Penske has some history with Ford that is sometimes forgotten. Back in the ’70s, I had Bobby Allison and Roger Penske come to my shop in Michigan and want to talk about cylinder heads for their Ford entry that was being housed in Redding, Pennsylvania. You should count those years, as well. Those were two, three meaningful years.”
WALT CZARNECKI: “Of course, that time and our first iteration with Ford in the ’80s, which was a wonderful experience for us. But one point I wanted to make, too, that in our relationship, maybe we feel it because we’re domiciled in Detroit, in the Detroit area, but the level of support from the very highest tiers of Ford Motor Company has been unwavering for motorsports both in this time and the time we were with Ford before. Everybody you talk to is very supportive, whether it’s NASCAR or the other programs that Mark is doing, at the very highest levels of the company. You don’t necessarily see that at other places.”
EDDIE WOOD: I think that’s really true. The amount of executives that come to our races is significant, I think. They’re interested. They know what’s going on. They’re a part of it. There’s no secrets about doing this and doing that. Everybody works together. You just don’t see that. In my career, I’ve not seen that till the last few years. I think it’s a great thing.”
JACK ROUSH: “That almost ties it with Walt, he has missed one other thing.”
WALT CZARNECKI: “Sorry, Jack (laughter).”
JACK ROUSH: “When they backed away in the ’70s you gave Bill Elliott all your parts. Got him launched.”
WALT CZARNECKI: We did. That’s a little‑known story, but thanks for reminding us. That’s how the Elliott family got started, we sold them all of our stuff. Absolutely true.”
TONY STEWART: “What else do you remember? Get it all out (laughter).”
EDDIE WOOD: “I can speak to that. I remember when Bill ran his first race, it was Bill and Ernie. They ran really well, a couple of guys, really young then out of Georgia. They bought a car from Roger Penske. They were running along, they were getting competitive. When they bought Roger’s car, they went from there to there. That legacy was started. That’s where it started with those Mercury’s.”
JACK ROUSH: “My point is we should be proud of our Ford history, and we have a lot of it that flows through.”
With the schedule changes that are anticipated and the next gen car, what are the significant challenges that teams face in the next five years?
WALT CZARNECKI: “I think, first of all, we’re excited about the new generation of cars. When it was first presented to us here sometime ago, I think everybody was pretty open‑minded about it. I really believe that. One of the things I liked about the development, what’s taken place so far, is how NASCAR got the teams engaged and involved, and the OEMs from the very beginning. It was not an afterthought. I think it remains to be seen. Obviously, we haven’t competed with the car yet. We’ve only run it one time. Joey has given us some positive feedback about it. But we’re excited about the prospects of what the car will bring both from a technical standpoint and from a marketing standpoint, as well. In terms of some of the other challenges the sport faces, I don’t think those are going to be any different here in the next 12 to 24 months. We’ve been looking at our demographics, marketing, schedule, TV, all those things. I don’t think those are going to change in the next 12 to 24 months. Having said that, I think we’ve reached a point where we are on an upward trajectory as a sport. I think we’ve seen the nadir of the sport here in the last couple of years. The new gen car is going to be the vehicle that keeps us going in that direction, I’m convinced of it.”
TONY STEWART: “It’s done for the right reasons. It’s trying to help the sustainability of the teams to be able to compete in the sport. It’s time to bring this car to a more current type of vehicle that’s more relevant to what you’re seeing on the streets. It’s a huge project obviously not only for Ford and all the Ford teams but for everybody in the sport. This is a very major undertaking to try to go through the development of this car in a very short amount of time. A lot has to happen during this calendar year, but I think at the end of the day it is done with the right intention and the right reasons I think for the sustainability of the sport. It’s the right direction. I feel like it’s a good thing.”
JACK ROUSH: “One of the things I see that it’s done is it’s created a scenario with the promise or prospect of making these teams economically viable. The problem we’ve had in the last at least decade or two decades, you couldn’t figure out how to take somebody that had not been involved with the sport that didn’t already have some equity in it, how to make them a team owner. The income and the expenditures were upside down. With the changes they made, with eliminating some of the needless development that’s going on components that don’t add to the quality of the race, we’ve got the prospect of putting the thing back on track.”
WALT CZARNECKI: “Just to underscore what Jack said, I had a conversation with someone earlier today about it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see new teams get into the Cup Series as a result of this with the next gen car. The economics are going to become more workable, we believe.”
The notion of a profitable racecar sounds whacky to anyone that has been in racing at any level. How does NASCAR create a racecar that is economically viable at the highest level of a sport? I remember with the Car of Tomorrow, the idea was we were going to have a car that you can take from a superspeedway, a road course and a short track. That isn’t what ended up happening. How do you and NASCAR work together to create a car that is economically viable and profitable?
JACK ROUSH: “Let me make the example of the roof flaps. We had the problem with the cars rolling over before the turn of the century here. They came out with the necessity to design some roof flaps. We did roof flaps that lasted for 10 years. There was no development for 10 years until we made the change for the Car of Tomorrow. The same design level, the same level of quality, it didn’t add to the cost, teams didn’t have to pay to be competitive in developing roof flaps. We need to look at the whole car like that, the aero, the kinematics, the safety, keep safety at a high note, just stop all this needless development of things that don’t add to the quality of the show, then we have the prospect of things falling in line from a cost point of view.”
Tony, you are relatively new to Ford Racing. Tell me your best recollection of Edsel Ford and what he’s done for your team, how you and Edsel react or interact.
TONY STEWART: “He’s kind of like a father figure when he shows up at the racetrack. That’s what I like about him. He doesn’t just show up and walk around and shake people’s hands. He knows exactly what’s going on. If he doesn’t know, he’s asking a lot of great questions about where you’re at that weekend. But he’s very engaged in what we’re all doing. That’s the one thing that I think from my perspective keeps me excited about the Ford program, is that like Walt said, from the top on down, everyone is engaged, everyone is participating, everyone is a part of what’s going on with what we do at this level. When Edsel shows up, it’s like God shows up at the racetrack. He knows everything that’s going on when he gets there. I’m sure he’s got a lot of other responsibilities other than this race program to worry about, but he is extremely engaged with what we do here, and he’s very passionate about motorsports. It shows when he gets here. Everybody in the program is excited to see him when he shows up, whether it’s at the race shop or at the racetrack. When Edsel shows up, he’s got everybody’s undivided attention and everybody is excited to see him.”
Mark, we’ve had this discussion about cooperation. Teams need to win, especially under the points system where a win moves you up. At what point, if any, are you less reluctant rather than happy to see two Ford teams going for the win fender‑to‑fender, banging wheels?
MARK RUSHBROOK: “I’m certain that it’s better to see two Ford teams banging fenders for the win than two Toyota teams or two Chevy teams. I’m certain of that. I mean, we tell our drivers, we tell our teams, we want them to win. They need to be out there racing for themselves absolutely. That’s why they are in racing as teams and as drivers. But there also has to be a consideration for not just driving for themselves, for the teams that they drive for, but also the manufacturer that they drive for. That’s the opportunity we can provide with our One Ford Family approach to this. Especially a race like the Daytona 500, you got to get to the end. If you can help each other get to the end, then race each other for the win on that last lap, last two laps, last half a lap, that’s what really matters. It’s taking care of each other, getting through the race, then go get the win.”
Mark, given what happened yesterday in the Duels, can you provide any sort of background on the communication errors that generated the one crash? Do you feel confident you can nix that before the 500 on Sunday?
MARK RUSHBROOK: “I mean, that’s a thing. As much as we talk and plan outside of the track, off the track, there’s only so much you can do to prepare for what’s going to happen on the track. It’s all happening so fast. The drivers have to make split‑second decisions, the spotters, crew chiefs, even. We know execution is rarely going to be perfect, never going to be perfect. Some drivers are going to come off the track angry, some of going to come off very happy. We learn every single time we go out on the track. We seem to find new things, have a lot of discussions after that, try to avoid that. I think we’ve got a good plan for the rest of the weekend, looking to see how it rolls out.”
Roush‑Yates engines, Jack. Talking about the 550 tapered spacer engine, they call it 550. Are you actually getting a little more horsepower than that? Can you talk horsepower numbers a little? What can we say is a good number at Daytona and Talladega?
JACK ROUSH: “I’m not on the receiving list of that data. I can’t really help you with that. Where I get involved, where Jack gets involved with Doug, is when something goes wrong (smiling). We have discussion about things. History has a way of repeating itself. We just need not to be repeating some of the things that haven’t worked for us in the past. He’s looking over his back and I’m looking over his shoulder to make sure we keep it right. As far as the power numbers are concerned, our Ford engines have historically done very well in the comparisons, dyno comparisons. I would put my money on them going forward. I have, in fact.”