This is the first in a series of 2017 NASCAR manufacturer previews. This week: Ford.
New faces – and a new team – will mark Ford’s 2017 lineup in NASCAR’s top tier.
The biggest move of the offseason can be found in Kannapolis, where Stewart-Haas Racing has switched from Chevrolet to Ford. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bumpy transition year, either, as evidenced by how well Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. (four victories and a spot in the Chase) performed last season after switching from Chevy to Toyota.
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Beyond that, SHR will also have a new driver, Clint Bowyer, in the No. 14 car made famous by the retired Tony Stewart. It’s been an eventful offseason for Bowyer, who settled a lawsuit with HScott Motorsports over an alleged failure to make payments. Bowyer had a dreary one-season stint with HScott, failing to win a race and recording just three top-10 finishes.
Assuming SHR can avoid too many first-year blips with Ford, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch figure to again challenge for spots in the Chase, with Harvick (until now a career-long Chevy guy) among the preseason favorites to win it all. Danica Patrick finished 24th in the standings for a second consecutive season, but led a career-high 30 laps.
One of NASCAR’s more stable and successful teams will remain that way, with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski again in the title picture.
Logano will be on a mission after making the Chase’s final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he was wrecked late in the race by Carl Edwards.
Keselowski, the 2012 champion, won four races last season and also recently proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Paige White. Keselowski tweeted that she said yes.
Roush Fenway Racing
After longtime Roush driver Greg Biffle left in November, the team announced it wouldn’t replace him and will drop to a two-driver operation, with Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Brian Pattie, Biffle’s former crew chief, will move to Stenhouse’s team. The charter for Biffle’s No. 16 car was leased to Chevy’s JTG Daugherty Racing and driver Chris Buescher.
Richard Petty Motorsports
Here’s another team undergoing major changes. After Brian Scott retired following just one full season at the Cup level, RPM will go with just one driver – Aric Almirola – in 2017.
Wood Brothers Racing
The charterless Wood Brothers nevertheless had a solid season in 2016 with rookie Ryan Blaney, who had three top-five finishes (including fourth place at Chicago and Kansas). There’s no reason to think Blaney won’t take the next step and contend for a Chase spot in 2017.
David Ragan, who drove for Front Row Motorsports in 2012-15, returns to Front Row, replacing Buescher. Ragan joins Landon Cassill (who will switch from No. 38 to No. 34) in the team’s two-driver lineup. … Matt DiBenedetto, who finished sixth at Bristol last season, moves from Toyota’s BK Racing to Ford’s Go Fas Racing.