Ford finally gets to publicly celebrate signing SHR

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Almost a full year after signing Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Performance is finally able to celebrate its new addition.

Ford lured Tony Stewart's four-car operation away from Chevrolet early last year in a deal that begins this season. SHR and Ford announced the partnership nearly a year in advance, then had to wait as SHR fulfilled its contract with Chevy through the end of last year.

Now that the calendar has turned, Ford is eager to showcase its four new gleaming toys.

The company hosted Stewart, Clint Bowyer and the four SHR Fusions on Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center in the first public event between the new partners. To mark the occasion, Raj Nair, the chief technical officer for Ford Motor Co., presented Stewart with a historic photo of Henry Ford that he asked Stewart to hang inside the walls of Stewart-Haas Racing.

The photo shows Ford in the one and only race he ever ran, in 1901 in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where he upset renowned driver Alexander Winton. The potential investors in the crowd were impressed enough with Ford's win in a car called Sweetness that he was able to attract the funds necessary to launch Ford Motor less than two years later.

Although the company has built a formidable race team in the 114 years since it started in the automotive business, no one ever thought the company would lure Chevy die-hard Stewart into its camp. But Stewart, who retired from NASCAR competition at the end of last season, made a business decision with team co-owner Gene Haas that has given Ford a top-tier organization that should put the automaker on an even playing field with NASCAR rivals Chevrolet and Toyota.

Ford had seven Cup wins last season - all from Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski - and only one driver represented in the title-deciding finale. Chevrolet won the driver championship, Toyota won the manufacturer title and Ford has not celebrated a driver championship since 2004, with Kurt Busch.

''We want to win and we are doing everything we know how to do that,'' Nair said. ''Getting Stewart-Haas, that caliber of an organization, and the high-caliber of its drivers, gives us a lot better chances.''

Stewart has hired Clint Bowyer to drive the three-time NASCAR champion's car. So Ford gets Bowyer, Busch, 2014 NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. The foursome bolsters the Ford lineup in terms of numbers, but also talent.

''We feel like we are in the best position in probably a decade,'' said Dave Pericak, global director for Ford Performance.

SHR will get its first crack on the track in a Ford next week when Harvick tests at Phoenix International Raceway. Teams report to Daytona next month for the season-opening Daytona 500.

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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