It took just about everything going wrong for just about everyone else for Brad Keselowski, above, to squeak into the Cup Series finale at at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Terry Renna AP
It took just about everything going wrong for just about everyone else for Brad Keselowski, above, to squeak into the Cup Series finale at at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Terry Renna AP

NASCAR & Auto Racing

Ford came up just short for the 2017 NASCAR title. Will 2018 bring another letdown?

January 17, 2018 07:40 PM

Two out of four slots ain’t bad odds, especially when there’s a championship on the line.

And that’s the situation Ford found itself in in November at the NASCAR Cup Series title race. With both Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick among the final four at Homestead (with the other drivers, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, belonging to Toyota), Ford had a 50 percent chance at the trophy.

Only they didn’t.

Here’s why: that 50 percent chance Ford had at winning? It was more illusion than opportunity.

All season long in 2017, and especially in the latter half of the year, drivers and fans and media analysts spoke of how the Toyotas were just too fast to match. Truex and Busch just had more pure speed in their vehicles, meaning drivers like Keselowski and Harvick were starting from a disadvantage even before the first green flag.

The fact that Keselowski and Harvick were among the final four was also to some extent more flash than substance. Harvick came on strong in the playoffs, winning at Texas late to clinch his spot, but he didn’t consistently challenge for race wins like the Toyota guys did.

As for Keselowski, it took just about everything going wrong for just about everyone else for him to squeak into the finale. That final spot could just as easily have gone to Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson as it did to Keselowski.

So the question remains: Will 2018 be another last-minute letdown for Ford?

Kevin Harvick, above, came on strong in the playoffs, winning at Texas late to clinch his spot, but he didn’t consistently challenge for race wins like the Toyota guys did.
Terry Renna AP

Well, it depends. With dependable veteran drivers like Keselowski and Harvick still signed for 2018, it’s hard to imagine Ford falling off a cliff in the standings. Those guys are still safe bets to win a handful of races, and it’s totally reasonable to expect one or both of them to mount a playoff run. Heck, it wouldn’t be insane for one of them (more likely Harvick) to make it to Homestead for a second straight year – and that doesn’t even factor in intriguing young drivers such as Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.

But for all that optimism, the reality is that the Toyotas were faster last season and have done nothing to lose their edge since then. Chevy is more of a wild card, since it’s unveling the new Camaro, but if you give a new toy to someone such as Johnson, you betcha he’s gonna use it.

All of which is to say this: Ford had an objectively good season in 2017, and two drivers competing for a championship is nothing to shake your nose at. But if Ford wasn’t good enough last season, and it isn’t making any major adjustments, and the competition might improve?

Well, just don’t expect Ford to leave Homestead with that championship trophy in 2018, either.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks