NASCAR: Struggling manufacturer has a new top team

Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Ford won just two of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season’s first 21 races. But a recent three-race winning streak has seen a new team emerge as the manufacturer’s best.

Through the first 21 races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series, Ford had secured just two wins, one with Team Penske’s Joey Logano in a drafting race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and another with teammate Ryan Blaney in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Chevrolet had racked up 12 wins while Toyota had earned seven.

But prior to William Byron’s victory for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet in this past Sunday afternoon’s race at Watkins Glen International, Ford had been on somewhat of a surprising three-race winning streak.

And neither one of Ford’s biggest teams, Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing, played any kind of role in it.

When Brad Keselowski left Team Penske, the only team for which he had ever competed full-time in the Cup Series, after 12 seasons to join Roush Fenway Racing (now RFK Racing) as not only a full-time driver but a co-owner, he did so for two primary reasons.

The first was that he wanted to become a team owner, and that wasn’t possible within Roger Penske’s organization. The second was to spearhead a resurgence of one of the sport’s most iconic teams, a team that had been mid-pack at best for the last several years.

Year number one was rough for RFK Racing, with the 2012 champion missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and going winless for the first time since his rookie season in 2010.

But Chris Buescher’s playoff victory at Bristol Motor Speedway proved that the hard work was paying off, even though he had not qualified for the playoffs either.

This season, both drivers started out much stronger, and wins looked like a matter of when, not if. Now here we are with one race remaining in the regular season. Both drivers are locked into the playoffs, both drivers are in the top seven in the point standings, and Buescher has three wins in the last calendar year.

Go back 12 months, and Buescher hadn’t won a race nor made the playoffs since 2016.

And amid a period of well-documented struggle, RFK Racing have emerged as Ford’s top NASCAR Cup Series team.

Buescher won back-to-back races at Richmond Raceway and Michigan International Speedway to start off Ford’s winning streak, and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell extended it the following weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. In a span of 15 days, both drivers doubled their career win totals.

Meanwhile, reigning champions Team Penske have just one driver in the top 12 in the point standings in Blaney. Reigning champion Logano sits in 13th place, and Austin Cindric is in a must-win situation from 22nd heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing, arguably the sport’s top team from 2018 to 2020, continue to go absolutely nowhere in the Next Gen era. Kevin Harvick is locked into the playoffs on points, yet even at only 10th place in the standings, he sits 14 places higher than his next closest teammate in Ryan Preece, who has finished higher than 12th just once all season.

At this point, it’s not even a stretch to say that Front Row Motorsports have overtaken Stewart-Haas Racing as Ford’s third best team.

McDowell’s Indianapolis victory, which came a week after he announced that he would be staying in the No. 34 Ford next year after having been linked to Stewart-Haas Racing, is the lone victory between the two teams this year, and he would probably be riding a two-race winning streak right now if literally everything — other than having the fastest car for the second straight week — did not go wrong for him at Watkins Glen last weekend.

Front Row Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland also finds himself in a tight points battle with the other three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, and he hasn’t even been with the team the whole season.

Just how good can Ford be when the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll around? Despite their early season struggles, six Ford drivers are locked into the 16-driver playoffs, and that number could grow to seven if one of the others wins Saturday night’s regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

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