On Thursday, Kasey Kahne put Ford’s new FR9 engine in victory lane for the first time ever when he won the second of two 150-lap qualifying races for the Daytona 500.
On Sunday, Matt Kenseth, Bill Elliott and Elliott Sadler will be looking to follow Kahne’s tire tracks into victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after also using the FR9 in the Great American Race.
Elliott’s Wood Brothers Racing team was scheduled to run the FR9 exclusively in 2010, but the performance of the engine during Speedweeks convinced Dave Simon and Doug Yates, the developers of the FR9, to put a couple more of the engines into the mix this Sunday.
“Based on completing the mileage on one of the engines, looking at wear condition on some of the others, and based on the performance of the engine during the qualifying races, we felt that providing additional FR9 engines will help give us additional boost for the 500,” Simon said.
It’s no secret that Ford has fallen well behind Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup arms race over the last few years. The 2009 campaign was an especially dismal one for Roush Fenway Racing, Ford’s flagship organization.
But the FR9 engine has offered a glimmer of hope for Ford throughout its development process, and Kahne’s unexpected win Thursday made that light shine just a little bit brighter.
The engine, in the works for a few years, was designed with durability and reliability in mind. Instead of focusing on sheer horsepower, Ford engineers looked at making improvements across the board.
An upgraded cooling system, for example, should allow the Ford teams to put more tape on the front of their cars without the risk of overheating the engine. The extra tape will help reduce drag and could give Ford a valuable aerodynamic advantage over the competition.
Ford plans to switch over to the FR9 exclusively in June, but Yates said that, for now, everyone is erring on the side of caution.
“Part supply is one thing,” he said. “It takes time to build up an inventory and that’s something we’ve been trying to really be smart about. There are economic concerns there and financial things you have to work through as well, but the other thing is that the 452 engine — which some refer to as the ‘old engine’ — runs really well.”
Indeed, the five Fords that competed in the Bud Shootout last Saturday enjoyed strong runs with the old 452 engine under the hood, and Kahne even managed to bring home a runner-up finish.
Performances like that will give the Blue Oval contingent more leeway to slowly phase in the FR9.
“We’re in a really good position to be able to go back and forth between the two engines and try to take our time and make sure that when we do release (the FR9) and run it across the board that it is 100 percent bulletproof and will get the job done,” Yates said.
REVISE AND DISSENT: Prior to Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, NASCAR revised its rules regarding green/white/checkered finishes.
Instead of ending the race and freezing the field if the caution flag comes out during the first lap of a green/white/checkered finish, NASCAR will now attempt up to finish the race under green as many as three times. The rule change will be in effect for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races from this point forward, including Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Whether you like the rule depends largely on your perspective.
If you’re a fan sitting in the grandstands or a track promoter looking to sell tickets to fans who sit in the grandstands, it’s an exciting development.
“From a promoter's perspective, we want our fans to leave our race weekend talking about a dramatic ending to a great race and NASCAR should be applauded for providing the opportunity more than once should the circumstances dictate,” Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. “NASCAR is listening to the fans on another issue and that benefits all of us in the sport.”
Most of the drivers and crew chiefs, however, are less than thrilled. The rule change seems to make it next to impossible for a crew chief to make an educated gamble on fuel mileage while many of the drivers see the change as a gimmick.
“At this level, I feel that we have to try to hold on to some sort of integrity, and for me, it gets a little bit like a circus,” Mark Martin said.
WASHOUT: The rain never let up in Daytona Beach on Friday, so Nationwide Series qualifying was scrubbed and the Camping World Truck Series race was postponed until 7 p.m. Saturday.
Jason Keller, who has started more Nationwide races than anyone in the history of the sport, missed out on Saturday’s race because of his qualifying draw.
Kyle Busch will sit on the pole based on his 2009 championship after the top 30 positions were set by owner points. Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart made the show because of previous race wins at Daytona and Jeff Green made it based on his past champion’s provisional.
The rest of the spots were determined arbitrarily by using qualifying draws, which provided Johnson City’s Brad Teague a spot in the show.
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Danica Patrick will start 15th.