The thinking was that Chevrolet was debuting a new model in the Camaro, Toyota had some changes with the Camry and Ford was going to be left behind until debuting the Mustang in the 2019 season.
Boy, was that wrong.
Instead, this has been a banner year for the Blue Oval brand, which has at least a 50 percent shot of having the championship driver after Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick qualified for two of the four championship spots at Homestead.
Ford will be looking for its first driver’s championship since Kurt Busch won in the No. 97 car for Jack Roush in 2004. That came one year after his teammate, Matt Kenseth, drove the No. 17 to the 2003 title.
In the years since, Chevrolet has won 10 championships, including one with Harvick in 2014; Toyota has two championships, including Martin Truex Jr. last season; and Dodge has one in current Ford driver Brad Keselowski.
This year, that all changed with Stewart-Haas Racing winning 12 races so far. Harvick has led the way with eight wins, followed by Clint Bowyer with two and one apiece for Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola.
Team Penske has accounted for six more wins: three by Brad Keselowski, two by Logano and one by Ryan Blaney. Ford has won 18 of 34 races to take its first manufacturer’s championship since 2003.
Now it’s a matter of whether the team can finish off with a driver’s championship.
Toyota could get two drivers in the final four. If Kyle Busch or Truex wins at Phoenix, the other Toyota driver will likely make the final on points. If Harvick, Logano or a non-eligible driver wins, then Kyle Busch and Truex are likely to advance.
Ford will end up with three of the four championship contenders if Kurt Busch, Almirola or Bowyer win. Kurt Busch could still make it on points, if both his younger brother and Truex have terrible finishes and he finishes up front.
Chevrolet, whose teams have struggled getting the new Camaro up to speed, would only have a shot if Chase Elliott wins for a fourth time this season at Phoenix.
Looking ahead to the final race at Homestead, Harvick has to be the championship favorite. Five of his eight wins this season have come on intermediate tracks and Homestead’s 1.5-mile track fits into that category.
VOLUNTEER RECOGNITION, RACING
Volunteer Speedway promoters Mitch and Tanya McCarter were named World of Outlaws promoters of the year on Sunday in a ceremony in Charlotte, N.C. With the McCarters’ lease up on the Bulls Gap dirt track, there hasn’t been anything announced regarding future plans for the four-tenths-mile venue.
Virginia driver Logan Roberson won his second Crate Nationals race at Volunteer Speedway last Saturday.
Roberson took his heat race and then outdueled Cory Hedgecock early in the 51-lap feature. Hedgecock briefly took the lead with a slide job on lap 24, but Roberson pulled off his own slide job two laps later to reclaim the lead.
Jonesborough’s Jensen Ford charged to a third-place finish. Tim Maupin of Johnson City finished sixth and Jonesborough racer Tim Byrd wound up 12th.
Travis Fultz of Tazewell cruised to a second win of the season in Sportsman Late Model. Wade Rookard of East Bernstadt, Ky., won for a second time in Open Wheel Modified, and Parrotsville’s Wayne Rader scored a second straight win in Modified Street. Knoxville’s Lee Merritt, who won track championships at both Volunteer Speedway and 411 Motor Speedway in the classic division, won for a ninth time this season.
KINGSPORT AWARDS AT BMS
The annual Kingsport Speedway awards ceremony is scheduled for Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Following a social hour and a dinner, the awards will be handed out at 7 p.m.
Johnson City driver Zeke Shell will be honored as the champion of the featured Late Model Stock division. Other season champions were Royce Peters (Mod Street), Kevin Canter (Mod 4), Bruce Crumbley (Pure 4) and Jay Swecker (Pure Street).
Email Sports Writer Jeff Birchfield at [email protected]