Ford’s New Mustang Dark Horse Hits NASCAR Season’s First Home Run

Jackson Wheeler
6 Min Read

  • The effort by Joey Logano and Michael McDowell marked the first time Ford had swept the front row for the prestigious race since 2012.
  • In 2012, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle achieved the last all-Ford Daytona 500 front row.
  • Despite the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse carrying a question mark regarding race performance, its qualifying debut put a smile on many folks in the Blue Oval camp.

Ford had two objectives when it developed its new Mustang Dark Horse: Fine tune its superspeedway package and improve its performance at the intermediate tracks.

After single-car qualifying Wednesday night at Daytona International Speedway, it appears Ford may be on the right track with its new NASCAR Cup entry.

Joey Logano gave veteran team owner Roger Penske his first Daytona 500 pole with a 181.947-mph lap. Joining him on the front row is another Ford driver, Michael McDowell, at 181.686 mph. Their performances marked the first time Ford had swept the front row for the prestigious race since 2012 when Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle achieved the feat. That year also was the last time Ford was on the pole for the season-opening event at the 2.5-mile track.

2024 ford mustang dark horse nascar

Deb Williams

Ford recently showed off its NASCAR Mustang Dark Horse to members of the media at its tech center in Charlotte, N.C.

The new Ford’s performance halted Chevrolet’s dominance of Daytona 500 qualifying. Chevrolet had won the previous 11 poles. Cars equipped with Hendrick Motorsports engines had won the previous nine and Hendrick drivers had earned the top starting position eight of the last nine years.

In qualifying Wednesday night, three of the five fastest cars were Fords with Austin Cindric being fourth fastest at 181.207 mph. It’s a single-car speed performance that will have the other manufacturers intently watching Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 to see how the Fords perform in a racing environment. In that race, a dozen of the 21 cars are Fords. Only four Fords are in the first qualifying race.

Despite the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse carrying a question mark regarding race performance, its qualifying debut still probably left a smile on the face of Richard Johns, NASCAR Development Leader for Ford Performance. Johns says they “left no stone unturned” in developing the new Mustang.

mustang ford dark horse

Deb Williams

The NASCAR Ford Mustang Dark Horse is off to a flying start in 2024.

“Obviously, you want to be as low drag as possible,” Johns says. “You want to have as much downforce as possible, but you have to fit in that box that NASCAR sets, and we’re talking about a very, very small box.”

When Ford submitted its new car to NASCAR it was submitted with a superspeedway package and an intermediate package. Johns says there is enough difference between the two packages that they won’t be able to gauge if they’re where they want to be until the season’s third race at Las Vegas. The second race is Atlanta, which now produces superspeedway-style racing.

“We are cautiously optimistic about our intermediate performance this year,” Johns says.

However, when it comes to superspeedway racing Ford has always been strong. Winning superspeedway races was a top priority for engine builder and team owner Robert Yates, and his son Doug Yates maintains that philosophy at Roush-Yates Engines.

ford mustang dark horse rear

Deb Williams

The Ford Dark Horse for NASCAR shares some familiar lines with its street version.

Just like engine development is never ending, Johns says they’re still learning about the current NASCAR Cup car even though it’s entering its third year.

“When we design a new car it’s strictly aero,” Johns says. “We don’t touch any suspension. The tech transfer side of things is where we get the bigger gain for Ford, where we learn how to make our tools better in simulation. The production side helps us with rapid prototyping and added manufacturing. We have more data than we’ve ever had.

“We listen to the teams and the drivers a lot. They all said very similar things. So that helped us to kind of reset ourselves and reset our target … where we needed to go with our new car.”

“The tech transfer side of things is where we get the bigger gain for Ford…”

The new Mustang’s character lines are quite aggressive, and Johns says that “helps us achieve the target that we’re trying to achieve from a downforce and drag perspective.”

“You can get pretty creative, but you have to manage the creativity of the studio with the aero part of it … make sure that you fit within the regulations and make performance on the race track,” Johns says.

Even with a lackluster performance last year on NASCAR’s intermediate tracks, a Ford driver still claimed the Cup series title for the second consecutive year. Ford drivers also won the 2023 Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series championships.

“If we didn’t have a target on our back last year, we certainly have one on our back this year,” Johns says.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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