New engine restores Ford power

The past few years haven’t been enjoyable for fans of Ford race cars.

It was bad enough that Chevrolet had been beating them like a flat tire flopping inside a fender at 180 mph. But it was utterly insulting when Toyota invaded NASCAR four years ago and pushed Fords further back in the pack.

Chevy fans have long enjoyed using Ford as an acronym for “Fix or Repair Daily.”

Doug Yates, chief executive of Roush Yates Engines, reacts to that with a slogan of his own: first on race day.

That was true last weekend, when the FR9 engines used in NASCAR that Yates’ outfit developed with Ford Motor Company were the hottest power plants in American racing:

■ Matt Kenseth drove his Ford Fusion to victory Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, Ford’s third win in seven Sprint Cup races this year.

■ Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, who won the March 6 Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, captured the Nationwide race April 8 at Texas, the first NASCAR win by a Mustang.

■ Edwards also won the last two Cup races of 2010.

■ Late Model dirt racer Scott Bloomquest won a big race in Indiana on Saturday, the same day that a Ford Mustang, using a smaller Roush Yates engine, won the Grand-Am Sports Car Challenge road-course race in Birmingham, Ala.

A fifth of the way into this year’s Cup season, Ford has nearly matched its total of four wins in 36 races last season, when it didn’t win until the 21st event. Ford’s total was well behind Chevrolet’s 19 and Toyota’s 12, while Kurt Busch was the only driver to put Dodge on Victory Lane.

This year’s tally: Ford and Chevrolet three each, Toyota one and Dodge none.

Nothing fuels the passion of race fans more than fender-to-fender competition, and thanks to Ford, there’s greater parity in NASCAR.

Give Ford credit, and not just because it didn’t take any money from the federal government in 2008 when General Motors and Chrysler did. Ford refused a bailout, while GM and Dodge accepted aid and tightened their belts by cutting back financial support for motor sports.

Ford didn’t curtail plans to develop and produce the new engine block, cylinder head and intake manifold for NASCAR.

Yates explained that Ford was the last of NASCAR’s four car manufacturers to develop a new engine.

“We’d been using the same basic engine for 30 years,” he said before last year’s introduction of the FR9, which was implemented full time this season.

Yates said a key feature of the engine is an improved internal water system that allows it to run cooler. Because of that, more tape can be used to limit the size of the grille opening, resulting in improved aerodynamics.

Yates grew up in race shops owned by his father, Robert, a noted engine builder and NASCAR team owner who won the 1999 Cup championship with driver Dale Jarrett. Yates took over in 2008 and shifted to engine development.

Yates said one day he’d like to field a team in NASCAR and possibly build engines for IndyCars, should Ford want to go in that direction.

But first, he wants to continue winning at the major league level and further Ford’s position in amateur racing.

“We are taking Cup technology to grassroots racers,” he said. “GM has dominated there, and we’re trying to change that.”

Derailing five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and his Chevy is clearly in Yates’ sights.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit lvrj.com/motorsports for more news and commentary. Follow Wolf on Twitter: @lvrjwolf.

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