Kevin Harvick Candidly Addresses the Ford Struggles That Could Have Massive NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Implications
Kevin Harvick currently sits third in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings, the highest of any Ford driver, but he has managed to get to that position through consistency and clean races rather than front-line speed.
The 47-year-old ranks only 12th in the series with 79 laps led and has not paced the field for more than 36 laps in any of the first 13 races of the season. His struggles to get to the front of the field in his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 car are also emblematic of the performance of all Ford drivers through the first half of the 2023 regular season.
Ryan Blaney for Team Penske and Brad Keselowski for RFK Racing reside seventh and eighth in the points standings, respectively, but neither has won a race nor led more than 115 laps. Ford has been shut out of Victory Lane across the first 13 races this season, aside from Joey Logano’s triumph in the superspeedway-style race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 19.
Chevrolet and Toyota have dominated the first half of the regular season
Meanwhile, Chevrolet drivers won each of the first four races this season. Toyota drivers also have four victories in 2023, including two of the last three races as Ford’s issues have become increasingly highlighted.
Kevin Harvick finished in second place at Darlington on Sunday, but that was more of a prime example of how he has managed to methodically salvage good finishes rather than serve as a prime contender. He led only five laps, which was the most of any Ford driver in the 36-car field.
The Fords have struggled to lead laps this season, particularly at tracks where downforce and aerodynamics matter greatly. The last three tracks the Cup Series has visited fit that description, and Ford has struggled to run up front at each.
In fact, Ford drivers have combined to lead only 25 of the 962 laps run in the past three races combined at Dover Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, and Darlington Raceway. None has led more than eight laps in any of those races.
Kevin Harvick suggests design changes have contributed to Ford’s struggles
Kevin Harvick accounted for five of those laps as the leader at Darlington, and he shared some insight into the manufacturer’s problems after the race.
“The Fords struggle in traffic with this particular aero package, and it’s hard to make up ground,” he said, per NBC Sports.
After the inaugural season with the Next Gen car model in 2022, NASCAR approved changes during the offseason to the design of the noses for each manufacturer. The Ford Mustang grille section is now wider than it was in 2022, and the hood louvers, or vents, are lower and wider than they were a year ago.
The Fords could still have struggled this season even without the changes because it is possible the similar offseason adjustments to the Chevrolet Camero ZL1 and Toyota Camry may have helped those manufacturers catch and pass Ford.
Joey Logano won the championship and four races in a Ford a year ago with 784 laps led, which ranked second to only Chase Elliott in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Ford also won nine of the 36 points-paying races and the two exhibition events. The manufacturer also held five of the 16 playoff spots.
Ford again has five drivers in playoff positions halfway through the 2023 regular season, but only Logano ranks higher than 10th in laps led. He has paced the field for 217 circuits this season, but 177 have come in superspeedway-style or short-track races. Logano has also finished 18th or worse in three of the last four races.
Ford’s lack of race-winning speed could be particularly problematic in the NASCAR Playoffs
Several of the five Ford drivers who currently sit inside the top 16 in the points standings might be able to reach the postseason without winning a race in the regular season since only eight different drivers have a victory through the first 13 events.
However, their chances at a championship would still be quite small since the four-round elimination playoff format emphasizes wins during the 10-race postseason. Joey Logano, for example, won the first race of the Round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the championship race at Phoenix Raceway to clinch his second career title.
At this point, no Ford team has proven capable of consistently challenging for victories, especially at intermediate tracks, which comprise half the playoff schedule.
Perhaps the break this week with the exhibition All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway will give Ford teams an opportunity to work on their setups and try to close the gap on the other two manufacturers.
If not, all Cup Series drivers who strap into a Ford for the rest of the season might have to pin their hopes on road courses, superspeedways, and short tracks where they could try to steal a victory through the potential chaos that always lurks.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.