RICHMOND, Va. -
The story goes that when Henry Ford invented the Model T, he told customers he would be happy to sell them a car in any color, as long as it was black.
Since 2005, Ford Racing told its drivers they would be happy with their engines, as long as they didn't expect to win a championship.
"We were running the Windsor engines, and they go back to the 1970s," said Jack Roush, owner of Roush-Fenway Racing. "They were really out of date. We were at least three development iterations behind Chevrolet and two behind Toyota and Chrysler."
Oh, how things change.
In the middle of the 2010 season, Ford and Roush Yates Engines rolled out the FR9 engine, and the Ford Fusions driven by Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger suddenly had more get-up-and-go.
Biffle won twice. Edwards finished the season with wins at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.
Edwards and Ford have picked up where they left off in 2010. Edwards is No. 1 in the Sprint Cup standings entering the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Trevor Bayne, a 20-year-old rookie who drives a Ford, won the season-opening Daytona 500. Edwards won at Las Vegas. Matt Kenseth was first at Texas, giving Ford victories in three of the first eight Sprint Cup races.
In 2010, three Fords finished in the top 10 in points, and four were in the top 20. This season, two Fords, driven by Edwards and Kenseth, are in the top 10 and three others are in the top 20.
"Everything has been improved," said Dave Simon, a race engine engineer for Ford who is embedded with Roush Yates Engines. "The engines are better. The chassis are better. The body and suspension is better. Everything on the car is better."
Roush certainly believes Fords have better engines now. But he doesn't want everything else about the Fusions overlooked.
"The engine is important, but a great car has a balance between the drag and downforce on the front and back," Roush said. "It has suspension that keeps the tires from being unnecessarily abused. The drivers can negotiate the corners without having the front and rear start sliding."
The drivers believe in the cars. And they know the engines are not just powerful, providing speed, but they also are durable.
"Confidence does marvelous things among athletes," said Jamie Allison, the director of Ford Racing. "And the better you run, the more confidence you have."
Getting to that moment, though, took years.
"Success is hard-earned," Allison said.
Simon and the engineers from Roush Yates Engines sat down with a blank piece of paper and began designing their engine.
Ten months later, their first engine was running. But it was not for racing. It was a development engine used to get answers about the product. That engine begat two other development engines.
Then came the final product. But things were far from perfect.
"When we were not achieving the performance results we wanted in late 2009 and the first part of 2010, everybody sat down, laid their cards on the table and came up with a plan on how to improve the cars and engines," Simon said. "Then, we executed that plan."
MATTHEW AND DANIEL HANSEN 400
At Richmond International Raceway
Tonight: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox, Ch. 13