Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon always considered themselves to be loyal Chevrolet men. Richard Petty always will be associated with Dodge. But all made contributions to Ford’s 1,000 career wins in NASCAR.
Greg Biffle got the car company its milestone victory last Sunday at the Michigan International Speedway, the home track to both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.
Earnhardt and Gordon each won three races for Ford early in their careers and both eventually signed a personal services contract with Chevrolet. Nine of Petty’s record 200 wins came in a Ford.
All will forever be part of a group of 124 drivers who’ve contributed a Camping World Truck, Nationwide or Sprint Cup series victory since the company’s first win by Jim Roper at Charlotte, N.C., on June 19, 1949.
Earnhardt won three Cup races for Bud Moore in the 1982-83 seasons. Gordon won three Nationwide races for Bill Davis in 1992. Petty won all nine races for Ford in 1969 after he couldn’t convince Plymouth to switch to a new Dodge Daytona.
For Biffle, last Sunday’s win was important for several reasons. Not only did most Ford executives join the celebration, it was his first victory of the season. And it was his first as a father on Father’s Day.
“Just super excited for Ford,” Biffle said. “One-thousandth win for them, and we got to go drive a bunch of their cars and trucks over at the proving grounds this week to see some of the great 2014 and ‘15 stuff coming to market. It’s really exciting to see all that and all the racing heritage, and to be able to be a part of that with the 1,000th win, I think I contributed over 50 of those, which is a small number compared to 1,000, but still sure excited to be the number 1,000.”
Biffle actually has 53 combined victories for Ford, trailing only Martin, David Pearson (73 victories) and Carl Edwards (64).
Last Sunday’s celebration was a long time in the making. Ford clearly struggled more than Chevrolet and Toyota with the implementation of the new Generation-6 race car this year. Chevrolet has seven wins in the first 15 races and Toyota has five. Biffle’s victory was just the third of the season for Ford.
“Well, I think that I certainly don’t want to downplay our success at all because this is pretty exciting for our team and what we’ve done, but I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface of how much better our cars are going to get,” Biffle said.
“So we’ve gained on it, definitely we’ve gained on it. But we’re not celebrating quite yet. But we’ve got some work to do still.”
Although Mark Martin currently drives a Toyota, he has the most wins for any Ford drivers. His 89 wins came with car owner Jack Roush and include 35 in Cup, 47 in Nationwide and seven in trucks.
Other notable Ford winners were: Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Kyle Petty and Mario Andretti.
Roush has been behind a lot of Ford’s success. His drivers, including Biffle, have combined to win 313 times. Two of his drivers – Edwards and Biffle – are among the top 10 in points. Both, however, said their manufacturer isn’t ready to compete for a championship – yet.
“You know, if you’d have asked me that two weeks ago, I’d have said no, we don’t stand a chance; I don’t think we’ll make the Chase,” Biffle said. “We went to Pocono with a good car and finished second, got ourselves 10th in points. When I left there I still wasn’t a believer that we’re all in the safety zone yet. Now I believe that we’ve gained a little bit more on it, on the setup, and we’re gaining bits and pieces on the aero.
“I think if we continue to work hard over the next 10 weeks or something, we'll be pretty competitive when it comes time for the Chase. You’ve got to compete with the top five cars every week, or you don’t stand a chance in the Chase.”
No matter how many wins a company has in the last 65 years.