Ford Drivers Aim to Take Advantage of Opening Round Playoff Tracks

Ford Performance

Getty Aric Almirola (bottom) and Brad Keselowski (right) practice at Daytona.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs feature four total rounds — the Round of 16, Round of 12, Round of eight, and Championship Race. The 10-week schedule will include a variety of tracks and horsepower packages, but the first three have created excitement among the Ford drivers.

Speaking with media members on Tuesday, Aug. 31, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola explained that the Ford Performance drivers have struggled at tracks featuring the 550-horsepower setup, such as Atlanta and Kansas, but have achieved success with the 750-horsepower package. The Round of 16 features only tracks with the 750 setup — Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway, and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I feel like our strengths are exactly that — the 750 package,” Almirola told Heavy and other media members, per Speedway Media. “That has been our strength this year. We ran really good at Nashville with a new car built for the 750 package and then we went to Loudon after qualifying on the pole and running top five at Nashville. We went to Loudon and started 22nd, I believe, and drove all the way up to the lead and won the race. So, I look at that 750 package as our best opportunity and we need to go into this first round and make the most of that.”

Kyle Busch won the May 2 race at Kansas in a Toyota Camry while Kurt Busch won the second Atlanta race on July 11 in a Chevrolet Camaro. Another Chevrolet driver in Kyle Larson locked up his first win of the 2021 season during the March 7 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


Only 3 Races in the Playoffs Feature the 550 Package

While there are 10 races in the playoffs, only three will feature the 550-horsepower package that the Ford drivers dread. The return trips to Las Vegas, Kansas, and Texas will all use 550 while the lone superspeedway race — Talladega — will use the new 450-horsepower package that debuted during the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona on Aug. 28.

“We just haven’t shown the speed.  The combination of offseason rules enforcement changes and the parts freeze just kind of completely neutered us as a group and we just haven’t shown that speed all year long,” Keselowski told media members. “I think the closest we’ve been was probably Ryan Blaney at Atlanta, which was more kind of that long-run speed and smooth driving than anything else.  He executed very, very well, but outside of that I can’t recall a moment where I’ve seen the Fords be in a spot of dominance or a spot where they’ve controlled a race at a 550 track.”

The vast majority of races in the playoffs will feature the 750-horsepower package. Darlington, Richmond, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Martinsville, and Phoenix will all use the setup that Almirola has used to achieve success, which will provide further opportunities throughout the cutoff rounds for the Ford drivers to avoid issues.


The Majority of Ford Drivers Have Struggled To Win

While Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney has been on a hot streak with back-to-back wins at Michigan and Daytona, the rest of the Ford drivers have dealt with some struggles. Former Cup Series champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have each only won a single race after perennially taking at least two checkered flags apiece.

One of Almirola’s teammates, Kevin Harvick, locked up nine wins during the 2020 campaign and won the regular-season championship. Another in Cole Custer won at Kentucky and locked up Rookie of the Year. Both are winless in 2021. Harvick was able to reach the playoffs based on points while Custer missed the chase.

Ford drivers have accounted for seven total wins in the first 26 races after reaching Victory Lane 14 times during the same number of races in 2020. For comparison, the Chevrolet drivers have locked up 13 wins in 26 races — 12 by full-time Cup drivers and one by AJ Allmendinger. The Toyota drivers have won six races, but there are only five full-time in the Cup Series between Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing.

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