Martinsville is first chance for Chase’s “lesser names” to punch ticket to Homestead


Take a look at the set of races in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and you’re tempted to cross off the middle round at Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks.

On a 1.5-miler like Texas, we have an idea of what the likely outcome will be – a win for either Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, or perhaps Kevin Harvick and the Hendrick-powered Stewart-Haas Racing. They’re the power players on the power tracks.

So if the remainder of the Eliminator 8 – that’s Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman, and Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards – want to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a win, their best shots lie at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway and the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

Martinsville kicks off the Eliminator Round this Sunday, and thus, a golden opportunity awaits Hamlin, Kenseth, Newman, and Edwards.

Based on past exploits at Martinsville, Hamlin would seem to have the best chance of this foursome in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. The Virginia native usually performs well in front of his home fans (four wins, nine Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 17 Martinsville Cup starts) and rarely bombs (just two career M’Ville finishes outside the Top 30).

However, his teammate Kenseth has also been much better at the Paperclip since his move to JGR in 2013. He finished second in this race last year to Jeff Gordon (Hendrick’s lone Chaser still standing), and this past spring at Martinsville, he ran sixth. Most importantly, the JGR duo won’t have to deal as much here with the power deficit that they’ve had on the big ovals vs. Penske and Hendrick.

Newman, like Hamlin, is a previous winner at Martinsville but since that spring 2012 triumph, he’s been up-and-down there with finishes of 11th, 31st, 38th, and 20th. But you can’t deny that he’s carrying some serious momentum right now with his four consecutive Top-10s. A fifth such result would not be a surprise here.

Then there’s Edwards, who has not finished in the Top-5 at Martinsville since a third in the fall of 2008. In the 11 starts he’s had there since, his best result has been a pair of eighths in 2010 (he ran 13th this past spring).

One is tempted to say that, based on his fifth at Kansas and eighth at Charlotte in the Contender Round, that he might have a better chance at Texas than Martinsville. On the other hand, he did pick up a short-track victory at Bristol back in the spring.

All of that said, the Eliminator Round points reset to 4,000 has these potential dark horses on equal footing with the big boys and with the same chance to lock themselves in for Homestead. That’s all they can ask for.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).