Dearborn — Ford will roll out its new Mustang NASCAR cup race car Thursday, and Brad Keselowski said he thinks it can lead to great things on the track.
But, the 2012 cup champion has some competitive concerns.
Will the new Mustang present a problem in 2019 for drivers and racing teams, including Team Penske, in the way Chevrolet seems to have had problems adapting to the new Camaros in 2018?
Keselowski said he does not think that will be a problem, and he is not sure the Camaro is the source of Chevy’s problem, either.
But, the Rochester Hills native, who will race at Michigan International Speedway for his first win in the cup series at his home track (2:30 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN) says he is concerned about the timing of introducing the Mustang to racing.
Ford will be the third NASCAR Cup manufacturer to debut a new racing automobile.
And, it will do so directly into the teeth of new rules governing aerodynamics and design, the so-called packages, that will determine specifications for all teams.
“The big question mark for us is, when Chevrolet built a car and Toyota built their car, they pretty much knew what the rules were going to be, for the next season,” Keselowski said.
“This year, probably more so than any year I’ve ever been a part of, there’s such a question as to what the rules are going to be for next year,” he said.
“I think it’s very hard to predict whether the Mustang is going to come out next year and be the best car, or come out next year and be the worst car.”
Among the options, NASCAR is considering the new “drafting package,” used partially at Indianapolis in 2017 and at the All-Star May 19 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both races featured significantly more passing.
But some drivers and teams complained that the vehicles reduced the role of drivers and mechanics, taking some of the human element out of the mechanical sport.
“I think it’s really open,” he said, of the possibilities for next season with a new car.
“The Ford team has done the best it can in design to make a robust car that can be adaptive to whatever the rules package might be next year. But, there’s only so much you can do within that box.
“I think there is a lot of questions about what the rules are going to be,” Keselowski said.
Meanwhile, like some of the Chevrolet driver, Keselowski said the lack of success by Chevy, which has won two of the 22 races this season is due to things other than the Camaro.
And, he expressed confidence Ford Performance and Team Penske will be up to the task with its new NASCAR cup vehicle.
“I’m kind of not too worried about bringing out the new Mustang,” Keselowski said.
“We feel like the Camaro is a better race car than what Chevrolet had before. We don’t feel like that’s the reason for any performance loss, year-over-year.
“In fact, we think that’s probably been a performance gain for them,” he said.
“And, we expect the Mustang to be a performance game for us, as well.”
On the day the 10 millionth Mustang rolled off a Ford assembly line, coincidentally, Keselowski said he has a fondness for the pony car away from the track, too.
“Yeah, we had a Mustang,” he said, as his well-known mischievous side began to come to the fore: “And, I’ve got to be careful with what I say, because there’s potentially a new one coming out that no one knows about that I’m trying to get access to.
“So, I’ll leave that one there, and let Ford answer those questions!
“But, I’ve definitely owned some Mustangs,” he said. “And my wife’s actually with me right now, her family must have a fleet of 20 of them. I swear.
“When the new Mustang came out, I thought that was really, really cool.
“It kind of felt like the resurgence of the muscle car, in Detroit. It certainly fulfills the performance heritage that I think we all look for out of Detroit, and so, I’m really proud to be associated with it.”
Keselowski is seventh in the drivers’ standings, 10th in the playoff standings and winless through 22 races.
The Consumers Energy 400 Sunday the fourth race before the Cup Championship Playoffs begin Sept. 16.
Michigan International Speedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Keselowski has never won a Cup race on the fast track in the Irish Hills.
“There’s a couple of different things that we continue to adjust to do better at this track,” Keselowski said.
“I really hate to go into specifics because, of course, they are proprietary, in nature.
“But, believe me, there is a lot of focus that I personally put on this race,” he said. “It would mean the world for me to win it.
“So, we’re all in.”
Asked for one big change he would make, in NASCAR, Keselowski said the current TV contract is helping solidify the financial footing, but he thinks it is time to cater more to fans and sponsors, again.
“It’s really got this sport in a healthy position financially,” he said of the current $2.4 billion, eight-year deal with Fox Sports Media Group and the $4.4 billion, 10-year deal with the NBC Sports Group.
“But it’s probably taken away from some of the rest of the community, from sponsorships to track attendance.
“So, it’s just trying to find the proper balance within the communities to make each stakeholder as strong as it can be,” Keselowski said. “Trying to strike the balance between those stakeholders is a huge challenge.”
Consumers Energy 400
When: 2:30 Sunday
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
Support race: Trucks, Corrigan Oil 200, 1 p.m. Saturday