Ford stars Greg Biffle (L) and Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Ford is behind.
That shows on the track, Ford with just two wins in the 13 races so far, to Toyota's five and Chevy's six.
And Ford stars Carl Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle are both saying Ford men need to figure out just what's missing.
Edwards is second in the Sprint Cup standings, and he did lead 122 laps at Phoenix in winning in March. And David Ragan did lead a 1-2-3 Ford sweep at Talladega in May.
However otherwise things have been rather mediocre.
A steady drizzle made Friday a washout at Pocono Raceway, and that tropical storm charging up the East Coast leaves Saturday iffy here.
NASCAR called it a day at 2 p.m. and set the Pocono Party 400 starting grid by owner points and owner attempts, putting Jimmie Johnson and Edwards on the front row. With only 43 teams here, everyone made the cut. It was the second straight week only 43 made the trip and the fifth time this season.
Race favorite Denny Hamlin, still working to make the September playoff cut, will start 17th. His last tour win was last September at Loudon, N.H. But Hamlin has been running strong the past few weeks, since returning to action following that injury layoff.
Hamlin comes in here after a hard crash Sunday at Dover. "It didn't affect me at all, but it did surprise me (when the tire blew)," Hamlin insists.
Hamlin is one story line this weekend.
Restarts are another. With the Montoya-Johnson Dover restart controversy, restarts here might be interesting to watch. Johnson says the guy on the inside (if it's not the leader) can't see the restart lines on the outside wall; one suggestion is for NASCAR to paint the restart lines on the track itself and maybe the outside fencing too.
Who's the best at restarting?
Kyle Busch is considered one of the best.
"But if you're not the leader, you can't play games," Hamlin points out.
A story line of growing significance, though, is the Ford mystery.
Here Ford has two wins (Biffle, 2010; Edwards, 2008) in the last nine events.
And Ford teams appear behind the curve.
What's the problem? Toyotas are fast, Rick Hendrick's guys are fast, but the Fords are not, usually.
"Those are questions we've asked ourselves," Edwards says. "We've talked a lot about those ideas the last few weeks.
"If the chase started right now, we'd be in a little trouble. I don't think we are as fast as we need to be.
"The way we look at it is we're not getting beat by a driver or a crew chief -- we're getting beat by organizations.
"The Gibbs cars are very fast.
"The Hendrick cars are very fast.
"We have to figure out, as an organization, how we get that little extra bit.
"We're not bad; we've won a race, we're second in points. We're not panicking or anything.
"But we've got to make slight adjustments now, that will hopefully pay off when the chase starts.
"We're not there right now; we don't know exactly what it is."
Engines? Aero? Chassis setups? Trick widgets?
"I don't personally feel the engine is the weak link in our program," Edwards went on.
"It's not we're having a bad year. And you have to keep things in perspective. Jimmy Fennig has helped me a lot with this; he's not a guy to panic.
"Greg and I and Ricky (Stenhouse) all talked about it before the All-Star race. We know there is some parameter we're missing.
"The elephant in the room is that Matt Kenseth leaves and he runs really well at a different organization.
"We know we can perform at that level. So what we have to do is figure out what we're doing differently.
"That's what Greg is saying -- it's a 'process' thing, or a way we go through information, or a way we solve problems.
"We're just a little bit off. We just need to turn the ship a little bit and head the right direction and I think we'll be good."
One curious point here is that Penske's two teams, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, new to the Ford camp, were solid in the opening weeks of the season but have since fallen back in the pack.
Are the Penske men and Roush men working well together? Could they work better together? Should they be working more closely? Is that part of the problem?
Edwards says he for one would like to be working more closely with the Penske guys.
"But what I've learned recently," Edwards says, "is that it's not as simple as all the engineers getting in the room and comparing notes. Because even if we understood where our strengths and weaknesses are, we have different manufacturing processes, different testing processes for the parts.
"It's not quite as simple as I thought it was.
"That's on the table. We've talked about it; and I believe our success is going to involve a lot of teamwork between Roush Fenway Racing and Penske.
"We've made some gains in a couple of places. Look at the speedway races (Daytona and Talladega). We went to Talladega and were screaming fast; that's as opposed to Daytona.
"We came back from Daytona and said 'We've got all these problems. Our speedway program is no good.' But we fixed it.
"We were also really fast at Richmond. I thought I had the fastest car at Richmond.
"The issue we're having now is more on tracks we consider our bread-and-butter -- the 1-1/2-miles and other downforce tracks.
"Who would have thought we'd go to Dover and run the way we did. You guys remember me and Matt and Greg racing for the win there, and that wasn't very long ago. So for us to finish 15th to 17th or whatever caught us by surprise.
"This track is a fast track and an aero track. But we're just missing something at those places. They really are the meat of the season. So that's what we're focusing on."