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Ford sets yet another NASCAR 'debut' weekend for its new FR9 Sprint Cup engine. But the longer this goes, the more questions....

  Doug Yates: Like father, like son -- the new Ford engine is a Yates design. Now when will we get to see how well it runs on the mid-sized tracks? This year, or not till next? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Remember that new Ford engine? The one execs were crowing about back in January, to much fanfare, the FR9?
   Well, Ford has set yet another time table for introducing that new motor into NASCAR – this time it's supposed to be in Matt Kenseth's car and David Ragan's car at Talladega next week.
   Stay tuned for further updates.
   Ford officials have been announcing its debut for months now, only to keep delaying things.
   And rivals have been curious about the whole situation. Suspicious almost.
   "I would be very nervous about 2010 and that new engine if I couldn't get enough lap time on it before the season starts," Chevy's Pat Suhy says.
   Or maybe NASCAR's looking more seriously at fuel injection than it might appear. Maybe there is a bigger picture here than we can see down here in the trenches.
    The Daytona-Talladega restrictor plate version was to have been run at Daytona in July. The regular, unrestricted engine was first to have debuted in June at Michigan.
    Now there is still only a tentative plan to run the new unrestricted engine at Texas (Nov. 8th) and/or Homestead-Miami (Nov. 22nd). Maybe so, maybe not?
    It is all becoming quite the story. Or rather quite the untold story.
    Engineers just being engineers?
    Supply line economics?
    A lot of questions.
    Why the delay?
    Well, first, blame it on Chevy's Rick Hendrick, whose teams have been kicking everybody's butt all season. 
    Just trying to back in that game has kept Ford teams busy. Busier than anticipated, to be honest, after Kenseth opened the season with back to back wins at Daytona and California.
    On top of that, engines aren't – apparently – Chevrolet's edge this season, and NASCAR's own engine dyno tests seem to show that Ford's current engine is about as good as Chevy's engine, though some in the Chevy camp insist their motor makes the right power at the right spot on the track, while Ford's engine makes its power at the wrong end.
    Perhaps the key to Ford's long delay is three-fold:
   -- reliability, which has been rumored to be an issue.
   -- parts supply, which in this era of so many Detroit problems, is an issue for every part of the chain; no point in ordering camshafts and crankshafts if things have to be tweaked.
   -- and the fact this engine is apparently 'car-specific,' meaning that the chassis and aerodynamics must be designed around the engine….meaning no point in trying to drop an FR9 engine into an FR8 car. Dodge has had much the same issue with its new engine, the R06, which doesn't fit into cars designed for the R05. And related to this – Ford teams, having a hard enough time dealing with the Hendrick Chevy issue, certainly haven't needed to add yet another unknown to that season-running crisis.
   The new Ford engine is, in part, designed for better cooling, which would effectively alter aerodynamics and chassis balance too.
   But what we have now is a still relatively unknown and little track-tested Ford engine finally making it to the track with only five races left this season. And throw in the probably new chassis tweaks and aerodynamics twists, and it would appear that – unless this new package is a killer right out of the box – Ford may still be playing catch-up to the Chevy men.
  Greg Biffle, one of Jack Roush's Ford men, says it may take till next summer before the new engine is used by all teams at all events, "because we're talking about a lot of engines. And when they (NASCAR) tested all the engines after the Michigan race (in August) our engines were one horsepower better than all the rest."
  Brian Wolfe, Ford's racing boss, says one issue delaying the introduction of the FR9 "has been the fact the current Ford engine is still so
competitive, along with the economics of obsoleting the inventory of the current engine and parts."
   Well, the NASCAR scoreboard right now is Hendrick-Chevy engineering 17 wins, Ford engineering two wins (both back in February).
   Yet, while Ford may have problems this year running with the Hendrick guys, it doesn't seem engines are the big issue.
    "This has been a tough year for us and our teams on the track, especially since we had such a strong 2008," Wolfe says. "The priority for everyone this year has been solving the on-track performance, which has slowed down the rollout of the FR9."
    Ford calls the new engine the first "purpose-built" NASCAR racing engine by Ford. It has been a major project for Doug Yates (son of NASCAR engine building legend Robert Yates) and Ford's David Simon.
    However the project has been something of an enigma.
    The new engine was rolled out for the media in January….Kenseth opened the season with that rain-soaked win at Daytona but following with a solid victory at California…and Ford's program seemed right on target.
   However Hendrick man Tony Stewart then put his new operation in high gear, and the Chevy men were off to the races.
   When Ford's Carl Edwards, who had a league-leading nine victories in 2008, went winless week after week after week (and he's still winless heading into Sunday's Martinsville 500), and when Kenseth hit an horrendous cold spell, it was clear in mid-spring that something wasn't quite clicking in the Ford camp.
    All that puts a lot of pressure on this new FR9 to work some magic.
   Wolfe says "This puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the competition."
    And Yates says "Right out of the box the engine is really impressive, power-wise."
   More importantly, he points out "we feel it's going to give us some advantages aerodynamically: we can 'tape' the cars up more and run the engines hotter. The (new) oiling (and cooling) system is designed for a racing engine. 
    "The current engine has done a great job for many years, but when I started 20 years ago the (current) block was already in existence. A lot of things have changed (since). The demands have changed, the RPM and power levels have changed tremendously."


Ford needs to spend their

Ford needs to spend their money on the "politics of Nascar"! They need a strong "lobby" to get wins, past history shows it!

It's a fact that they will never never let Chevy get behind; if Hendrick was doing as bad as Roush all you could see is rule changes!

I see nothing wrong about Ford running the FR9 at Talledaga! Have you ever checked what brand of car has won aprox 75% of the races there for the last 11 years? Led almost that many laps! It's GM; same true for Daytona! So restrictor plate tracks is the weakness, or let's say they need to "pass the plate around"

You are allowed to dominate only if you have a 'bowtie" on the hood!

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