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Ford ready to begin Fusion era
Sunday's Ford 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks both the end of Ford Championship Weekend and the beginning of an era for the all-new Ford Fusion.

The Fusion will be Ford's entrant in the Nextel Cup and Busch Series next year, marking the first time since the Torino in 1968 that an all-new Ford model debuted in showrooms and on the track at the same time.

The NASCAR version of the Fusion was unveiled in Charlotte , N.C. , in July and participated in its first NASCAR test Aug. 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"Our guys did a terrific job of getting the NASCAR Fusion to where it needed to be, and we actually were ahead of schedule in getting it to NASCAR," said Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology. "The goal of any new car is to take the lessons learned from the previous model and, working within the NASCAR guidelines, bring forth a slightly better product.

"I think we accomplished that, and I think we have a car that NASCAR fans will easily recognize," Davis said. "We're excited, and I know our teams are as well." 

Ford team owner Jack Roush, whose drivers have won the last two Nextel Cup championships, said he is confident that the transition from the Taurus to the Fusion in 2006 will be a smooth one.

"I'm always guardedly apprehensive and optimistic going into any new year," Roush said after the car's unveiling in Charlotte .

According to Roush, the NASCAR Fusion's aerodynamic characteristics are nearly identical to those of the Taurus and that should make the changeover an easy one.

"The Fusion, from what I've been told about the initial tests that have been done, is virtually line on line what the aero performance and signature of the Taurus is," Roush said. "I'd be really surprised if we're not able to take the same car to the same track on the same tire on the same day and run the same springs and shock settings."

Translation: Expect the NASCAR Ford Fusion to be strong from its first race next year, the 2006 Daytona 500 in February.

And the link between how the Fusion performs on the track and how it performs in the showrooms is a critical one.

"The Fusion represents the new face of Ford cars," said Marty Collins, general marketing manager, Ford Division. "And racing it in NASCAR competition allows us to get that new face in front of the millions of race fans who follow NASCAR racing in person and on television.

"Racing involvement will play a key role in the launch and the marketing of the Fusion throughout the rest of this year and into 2006. The great interest in NASCAR racing will help us tie the Fusion name to the Ford brand, and it's only right that we race Ford's newest car in America 's flagship racing series," Collins said.

Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Nextel Cup Champion and owner of one of the largest Ford dealerships in the Southeast, was pleased with the way the first on-track test of the Fusion went and enthused about the excitement the Fusion will bring to his showroom.

"I think things went really well," Jarrett said. "I was pleased with the way the new Ford Fusion was as far as the balance entering and exiting the corner. I was very comfortable in the car."

As for the street version, "I think what we've done with the Fusion is that we built a car that's going to be very nice on the racetrack, but it's going to be one that the public will go to a dealership and want to buy one," said Jarrett. "That's what we want to achieve-something we can win with on Sunday and the public will buy on Monday."

The 2006 Ford Fusion has been named Official Pace Car of Ford Championship Weekend, this weekend's season-ending showdown that will determine the champions in NASCAR's Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series.

The final race of the 2005 season will also be the final race for Ford's racing version of the Taurus, which since its debut in 1998 has won three Nextel Cup championships (Dale Jarrett in 1999, Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004) and one NASCAR Busch Series title (Greg Biffle in 2002).

In its tenure as Ford's vehicle of choice for NASCAR competition, the Taurus has won more than 100 races, from the high banks of Daytona to the fabled Brickyard at Indianapolis to short tracks and road courses.

This year alone, the Taurus has won 15 of the 35 Nextel Cup races run so far, with five of the 10 finalists for the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup piloting Ford Taurus racers.

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