Iconic on the street, Mustang takes green flag for NASCAR

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Ford Performance and Ford Design teams worked together on new model to create competitive race car that remains true to its heritage

Dearborn — Peering from under his Panama hat Thursday, Jack Roush viewed the unveiling of the new Mustang that Ford Performance will race in the 2019 NASCAR Cup series.

Roush could be excused for thinking of 1966.

He walked out of Eastern Michigan 52 years ago with his masters degree in Scientific Mathematics — no regular math, mind you, for the founding owner of Roush Enterprises, in Livonia — and into the Ford Motor Company.

And, that year, Ford sold 607,568 Mustangs, the largest annual volume by eight percent.

As Roush sat not far from the Southfield Expressway, in the backyard of the Glass House, also known as Ford World Headquarters, with all of the Ford drivers and team owners in the NASCAR Cup series gathered, welcoming the Mustang into the highest echelon of stock car racing for the first time, a smile came to his face.

“I feel like Mustang making its entrée into the Monster Energy Cup Series is the end of a long journey,” The Cat in the Hat said.

“It started with Trans-Am racing back in the ‘60s, and it’s followed me in my career through drag racing and road racing and Xfinity, and now, with Cup racing being in the future.”

When the Michigan State Police cruiser escorted the long line of Mustangs, including the camouflaged racing automobile, onto the Ford grounds, some of the 13 Cup drivers in production Mustangs made things sound like Telegraph or Woodward late at night back in 1966.

Heavy feet make for rubber laid, in a moment of celebration for car enthusiasts and NASCAR folks alike.

Helping the manufacturer through its Ford Performance division, Roush-Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Wood Brothers Racing all played a considerable part in bringing the Mustang to the fabled Cup series.

A lot of man-hours for everyone involved. So, why not squeal a tire or two?

“It was a huge job to bring all the technologies to bear, to be able to define the body shape, define the cooling capabilities,” Roush said.

“We used CFD as well as the wind tunnels to define that,” he said, a mentioning computational fluid dynamics, which analyzes and often resolves problems of fluid flows.

“And, there was a lot of FEA work on the suspension parts,” Roush said, of the finite element analysis, a computerized means of analyzing whether products will break or suffer advanced attrition.

“We have a lot of great iconic products at Ford,” said Hau Tai-Tang, executive vice-president for product development and purchasing. “But this product, the Mustang, is the heart and soul of the Ford Motor Company for 54 years.”

It is the sort of suspension failure that can toss a car and driver into the wall of a race track at unconscionable speed.

“There’s been an unbelievable amount of work going into this, trying to get it ready for this day,” said Roush, who has won 31 championships and more than 400 races in dragsters, sports cars and stock cars across 50 years of motor sports.

“And, I just can’t wait for it to be on the race track.”

Walt Czarnecki, the vice-chairman of Team Penske, said the new Mustang for NASCAR is a product of Ford, and long labor.

“Ford brought a great deal of resources, both technical and human, to this effort, when they had the concept of going with the Mustang for this,” said Czarnecki, who has been with Roger Penske since the 1970s, when they raced the Matador, manufactured by the American Motors Corporation.

“Ford operated collegially with all of the teams.

“And they went to the strength of each of the teams. They met with our aerodynamicist, met our engineering people,” he said.

“So, we were, I don’t want to say co-designers of this car, or co-authors.  But we played a critical part in it. And, it wasn’t one-dimensional; not at all.”

Kevin Harvick, who enters the Consumers Energy 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway second in the driver and playoff standings, talked about what a new race car means for the drivers.

“Well, you’ve got to look farther than your hand,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to have something at the end of your tunnel that has more potential than what you have today.”

Then, sounding a bit like a Ford executive, the 2014 Cup champion said, “From a development standpoint, from a production car standpoint, there’s just a lot of benefits to putting the Mustang on the track.”

In preparing the Mustang, designers and developers talk to the drivers about new racing cars, especially the aspect of “balance.”

“I think from a driver’s standpoint, you’re going to talk about bumpers and the way that you super-speedway race, and things like that,” Harvick said.

“There are those conversations, but it really is more the designers trying to accomplish whatever targets are set by the teams, and making it as versatile as possible.”

For Ford, it is a matter of bringing the lion of its fleet to what is perceived as the highest echelon of racing in the United States, with development and sales of the street car a well-considered byproduct of the racing.

“We have a lot of great iconic products at Ford,” said Hau Tai-Tang, executive vice-president for product development and purchasing. “But this product, the Mustang, is the heart and soul of the Ford Motor Company for 54 years.”

Ford first raced a Mustang in 1964, and it won the Tour de France.

“It’s had a fabulous heritage with partnerships like that with Carroll Shelby, Jack Roush and all sorts of performance products,” Tai-Tang said. “But we’ve never competed in the highest echelon of American stock car racing. We couldn’t be prouder of our Ford Performance team.”