Dearborn — At Ford they're partying like it's 1999.
For the first time in 19 years Ford has won the NASCAR driver's and manufacturer's title in the same year. On Wednesday, Ford employees celebrated the occasion with NASCAR superstar and 2018 champion Joey Logano and his team at Ford headquarters.
Logano was joined by his crew chief Todd Gordon of Penske Racing, Edsel Ford Jr., Ford Performance Motorsports chief Mark Rushbrook, Roush engine guru Doug Yates —and Joey's four-wheeled, earth-pawing, thoroughbred No. 22 Fusion NASCAR.
"It's been a long time coming," said Logano to a packed Ford World Headquarters auditorium of 500 employees. "This is the top level of American motorsport. This is all I ever wanted to do when I was 6 years old and asked for a go-kart for Christmas."
Edsel Ford, too, waxed nostalgic. "I started all this in June of 1966 at LeMans with my father. It’s been 50 years of work," he remembered, referring to Ford's historic win over Ferrari in the world's greatest 24-hour endurance race and putting the Blue Oval on the map as one of the world's most formidable racing manufacturers.
Dozens of championships have followed —five of them this year, including the IMSA Weathertech GTLM (Ford GT) and Continental Tire Sportscar (Mustang) championships, Australian Supercar (Ford Falcon) and World Rally Champioship (Fiesta).
But none was as sweet as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup two-fer.
Ford has weathered a difficult year in which it announced eliminated of its sedan models while fending off criticism that it's not moving fast enough to outline a vision for the future. Its performance unit has had no problems with speed.
Logano, one of the most touted oval-racing talents since he was barely a teen, seemingly came out of nowhere in 2018 to defeat "The Big Three" who had dominated the season — Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick — in the last playoff race at Miami's Homestead Raceway.
"What an amazing season... last year, we didn't even make the playoffs," the 28-year old Logano said of the season-ending races structured like the NFL or NBA post-season. "If it wasn't for each and every person in this company, there’s not the support to go out an win these races."
Edsel was effusive in his praise for Logano, who is the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race at 19. "Joey is one of the hardest-charging race drivers in NASCAR. Period," said the Ford scion. "He's a good man. A good husband... and new father to his little boy Hudson. The night before won the championship, Joey and (his wife) Brittany was at a local grocery store giving out Thanksgiving dinners to the needy of the Homestead community."
Ford presented No. 22 with a check for $22,000 to the Joey Logano Foundation, which in the last five years has invested more than $2 million in organizations offering a second chances to kids in crisis.
Racing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup prize is a massive multi-million-dollar team effort encompassing drivers, engineers, engine builders and sponsors across a 36-race calendar. Since founder Henry Ford attracted investors' attention to his inventions on the track, Ford has aggressively pursued racing as important tech transfer from the track to the showroom. Or, as Ford brass pithily put it: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
Edsel Ford was lavish in is praise for engine supplier Yates: "He puts the middle name back in Ford Motor Company."
Notably absent from the team celebration was Roger Penske, whose NASCAR championship capped off a big year for his Bloomfield Township-based race organization. Penske completed a 2018 trifecta in winning the Monster Energy Cup, Indy 500 and Australian Supercar series. Penske was traveling to one of the many outposts in his empire.
"This was my 10th season... and a chance to drive for the greatest car manufacturer and greatest car owner I could ever ask for," said Logano. "I can’t tell you what it means to drive for the best.”
Logano and Penske will next turn their sights to winter development as Ford introduces an all-new Mustang body and NASCAR regulates V-8 engines to 550 horsepower for long tracks (think Daytona) and 750 for short tracks (Martinsville, for example).
But this day was all about taking a victory lap at headquarters.
"I was scared to death going into Homestead" for the final race, said Edsel. "You don't know what's going to happen. There were over 100 dealers there. The victory was very sweet."
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.