Ford a cut above Chevy, Toyota early in NASCAR Cup season

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kurt Busch brought up front-end geometry, serpentine systems and aerodynamic balance.

The Daytona 500 champion was trying to explain Ford's superiority in first two weeks of the NASCAR Cup season.

"We upgraded in in all categories at Stewart-Haas," Busch said Friday. "So it's really neat to see everything come out of the box strong."

Stewart-Haas Racing's switch from Chevrolet has paid off early, with Busch winning the circuit's biggest race and teammate Kevin Harvick leading the most laps through two races and sitting atop the points standings.

Plus, Team Penske and Ford driver Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta last weekend.

"It's great for Ford," said Keselowski, the defending champion heading into Sunday's race Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "They're putting a lot of time and money into the sport of NASCAR, and to be rewarded is something you always want to see when someone makes an investment. They've really brought in a strong leadership group that embraces motorsports with a passion."

Ford appears to have adjusted the best to NASCAR's 2017 rules package that included reduced downforce. Harvick led for 50 laps at Daytona and a race-high 292 last Sunday before a late pit road speeding penalty knocked him from the top spot.

But Havick leads a group of four Ford drivers in the top five of the season standings that includes Joey Logano of Team Penske.

"It's been a great start and it all comes down to people," Harvick said. "And that's the people at Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford and Ford Performance, putting all the effort in to make this transition as smooth as possible."

That cohesion has left others frustrated. Kyle Busch claimed after the first practice session in his Toyota on Friday that his chances for a first win at his home track since 2009 "are not looking so bright right now."

"We're just lacking the ability to have the amount of front turn in the race car that I'm looking for," Busch said, adding that "there are some other groups that have done a better job of preparing for it than we have."

His brother, Kurt Busch, said he's notice a difference when SHR switched its engine-building alliance from Hendrick Motorsports' Chevys to Ford and Roush Yates engines.

"Doug Yates' power, I want to say, is slightly better than where we were, it just feels that way," Kurt Busch said. "The aerodynamic balance of the Ford has more distribution on one region of the car than another and it feels better."

Erik Jones, in his first Cup season for Furniture Row Racing, said Friday that Toyota also is "a little bit off" so far.

The circuit took to the Las Vegas 1.5-mile track Friday with the temperature in the 80s and the forecast calling for the unseasonably warm weather to continue through Sunday's race.

That's perhaps fitting, as Las Vegas is a new hot spot for NASCAR after it was announced earlier in the week a second Cup race will move from New Hampshire to the desert starting in 2018. And the increased money and attention for the area was on display again as track officials announced a naming rights deal with Pennzoil for the spring race starting in 2018.

"The most important thing that we can have for the sport is to have communities that embrace us both wit funding and with attendance," Keselowski said. "And this community has shown that feels that way and it wants us."

Chevrolet and Toyota were hard at work in the garage tinkering with their cars in hopes of stopping Ford's perfect start in Sunday's 400-mile race.

Streaks of dominance by manufacturers are nothing new in the sport, however, and Kurt Busch warned that "you can't go off two races." No doubt the other manufacturers will catch up, and teams will be tested in many environments.

"We're going to get a nice taste of a lot of different styles of race tracks as we go through this West Coast swing and the first seven weeks of the season here," Harvick said. "But so far it's been good."

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