Mr. Ford on the NASCAR tour for years now, Jack Roush. And how will the addition of Roger Penske to the Ford equation work out? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
"I'm going to have a meeting with Roger and Jim Farley April 19th – my birthday," Roush says. "We'll sit down and break bread and see if we can make sense out of this.
"There are opportunities to do things together that would make the cars better and reduce costs.
"And Ford would like to increase the size of its footprint in NASCAR. And Ford would like to have the opportunity to run for the manufacturers' title….and it's hard to do that when you've got as few Ford teams as we have.
"So that's Ford's primary motivation – to say, 'yes, Jack and his guys can win a number of races throughout the year, but we really couldn't be effective in a championship run for the manufacturers' title without having more support'."
The Captain, Roger Penske. Can he help Ford win the NASCAR manufacturers' championship? And what will happen this season in his own engine shop? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
A big question for Dodge and Ford is how to let Penske finesse the curious role of racing Dodges this season – and remember Brad Keselowski had a great run at the Sprint Cup championship last fall – while gearing up and testing Fords and Ford engines for 2013.
Without Penske and his engine building operation, Dodge itself looks to be facing major trouble. Might be hard to sign any new teams to fill the void without having a solid NASCAR engine program in place.
And why would Dodge engineers be willing to keep Penske up to date on their latest technical tricks if he's now building a Ford operation?
Roush has been NASCAR's Mr. Ford for decades, the company's point man in virtually every aspect.
Penske, a world-class racer too for decades, has used a different business approach, signing long-term contracts with various manufacturers and switching allegiance when it makes good business sense. Penske, leaving Dodge-Chrysler at the end of the season after 10 years, will be on his third go-round with Ford, with this new five-year deal, which he says he took when Dodge declined to meet such a long-term requirement.
Roush and teammate Doug Yates have controlled the Ford-NASCAR engine operation for years, and anyone looking to run a Ford on the stock car tour essentially has to lease engines from Roush and Yates.
Edsel Ford (L) and The King. Wonder just what Ford's thinking is in the Penske move? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Penske has an 80-man engine shop, building highly competitive Dodge engines, and Penske says he will keep that engine operation up and running after the changeover. Penske has mentioned possibly continuing to build NASCAR-Dodge engines next season; however Roush says that Ford execs are not likely to go along with a deal like that.
Roush says he's willing to lease – not sell, but lease – Ford FR9s to Penske. How interested Penske might be in such a deal, essentially letting a rival racer hold control over a key part of the operation, is unclear.
Roush points out that Penske is free to build his own FR9s.
"He has not talked to me," Roush confirmed, though the deal apparently went down just days after the Daytona 500.
"My only conversation has been with Ford; I have not had conversation with any of the Penske folk. And to the best of my knowledge Doug hasn't had any conversation with his engine shop.
"I only know what I've been told.
"Somebody who has done all the things he's done, in business and in racing, can pretty much do whatever he wants. And he hasn't told us yet what he wants to do.
"We're interested in having the best Ford teams we can have for Ford Motor Company. And Roger has the prospect of carrying to us some things that could benefit everybody. And there are some things that I know and things that we do that could benefit him.
"To get started on a new engine, with such a short period of time, would be very hard. If he wants to build his own Ford engines, he's certainly welcomed to do that; the parts are available. But he's starting off two or three years behind, in terms of that set of hardware."
Remember how long it took Roush and Yates to get going wide open with the new FR9, about a year and a half after it was first introduced.
"We won't sell engines….but we'll lease engines to anyone who wants to race a Ford," Roush says. "And he would have the same power level and durability level as everything I've got."
Penske has raised the prospect that he might continue building Dodge engines in his shop, while racing Fords.
"It would be an interesting scenario if he builds Dodge engines and races Fords." Roush said. "That hasn't been done.
"I don't know how Ford would feel about that: I feel there would be some concern about where his real interests were."
This is Penske's third time through the Ford camp. He raced NASCAR with Bobby Allison in the 1970s; and then he had Fords with Rusty Wallace.
"He's changed his spots again, and we certainly wish him well, and try to help him and be helped by him when it suits our common purpose," Roush says.
"It's hard to be a single team for a manufacturer. We've undertaken it with 8 to 10 cars we've worked it….versus to have only two or three cars to be able to work with (as Penske has with Dodge).
"You're doing the engineering for everything, the kinematics, the aerodynamics, the engine, and all that. And you have to spread the costs of that off the sponsorship that can be generated, and that is really a challenging economic thing.
"I could not race with (only) two or three cars; I could get enough sponsorship money.
"For him to come in to the Ford world, and look at getting some economies of scale, that would be compelling to me from a business point of view."
Roush said he was kept informed about the status of Ford's negotiations with Penske but played no active role.
And a footnote: what is Roush's take on the Rick Hendrick-Chad Knaus-NASCAR John Middlebrook controversy?
"I chose not to comment on that," Roush says, noting that he does have strong feelings about it.
"I've had multiple problems of mine own over 25 years. And I was not successful in any of it."
"You could certainly make the case," Roush did offer, "that if someone had an affiliation with a team, as a jurist, that they might exclude themselves…or be excluded.
"In this case that didn't happen…and that leaves the question whether or not there was some nepotistic influence that occurred."
Doug Yates, Ford's powerhouse in the engine room. And how will Roger Penske own engine room, 80-men strong, fit into this new picture? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)