By: Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
2020 was a productive year for Ford. They wrapped up the 2020 NASCAR Manufacturers championship with 18 victories, doubling the win totals of both Chevrolet and Toyota, and is looking to claim their 17th Manufacturer’s Cup this season. With most of their driver line-ups staying the same for 2021, it’s safe to say that they are the early favorites.
Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)
On the one hand, 2020 was great for SHR. Cole Custer won Rookie of the Year, and Kevin Harvick wrapped up a historic season with nine victories. On the other hand, Harvick failed to claim the Drivers Championship, while Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer went winless.
Consistency will be key in determining SHR’s success for 2021. Bowyer has retired, opening the door for rookie Chase Briscoe to take his place. Harvick will return to chase his second championship, and hopefully, the mistakes of the past will be forgotten (See my prior column on his postseason struggles). Almirola and Custer are also looking for improvement after the two combined for one win last year.
In my opinion, one of Team Penske’s drivers is going to win the championship this year. Either Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski will hoist the trophy at year’s end. I know it’s a bold prediction, but with the way both drivers performed last year, you can’t blame me for picking them as my championship favorites. Both former champs made it to the Final Four last year only to come up short for the championship, with Keselowski finishing second in the final standings and Logano finishing third.
With Logano and Keselowski expecting to be title contenders, that leaves Team Penske’s other two drivers as the wild cards. Ryan Blaney started last year hot by leading the points through the first three weeks, then got cold during the playoffs with a first-round exit. Austin Cindric, the team’s developmental driver, will be making his series debut at Daytona in a one-off ride. Cindric is the defending Xfinity Series champion and is looking to make an impact in his first Cup Series outing.
Roush Fenway Racing (RFR)
Last season got off to a horrible start for Ford’s longest allies. Veteran Ryan Newman missed several weeks due to a head injury sustained at Daytona, and newcomer Chris Buescher underperformed. RFR hasn’t been relevant in the NASCAR landscape for years, and I don’t expect 2021 to be any different, though Newman will be back to full health after his scary crash last year.
Front Row Motorsports
Perhaps this will be the year that Front Row finally lives up to their name. The underdog team showed great potential last season with Michael McDowell continuing to improve week after week. John Hunter Nemechek (who has the distinction of being the only NASCAR driver to have blocked me on Twitter) is gone, as a lackluster rookie campaign led to him leaving the organization. Taking his place is newcomer Anthony Alfredo, who looked very solid in his role as a developmental driver last year.
The Other Ford Teams
Wood Brothers Racing: Matt DiBenedetto enters this season knowing that he has one year left on his contract. Can he give NASCAR’s oldest team their elusive 100th victory?
Go Fas Racing: They moved to a part-time schedule with backmarker Ryan Ellis as their driver. At this point, I suspect they have no intentions of improving.
Live Fast Motorsports: As one of the three new teams to join the grid this year, Live Fast have a lot to learn on their way to the top.
Rick Ware Racing: I fully expect at least one Rick Ware car to cause a massive crash this year. It seems that every year these guys are the cause of one of the major accidents of the season.
Ford seems to be the best overall manufacturer this season, but they have some stiff competition from the Chevy’s as seen last week. Also, we haven’t even gotten into the juggernaut that is the Toyota teams. Check back next week for the final installment of this season preview as we break down NASCAR’s only foreign manufacturer.