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Jarrett faults Ford for struggling teams

1/10/2007

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kasey Kahne. Kurt Busch. Elliott Sadler. Jeff Burton. Dale Jarrett. Mark Martin. And more.

No, this isn't a promotion for a Fanfest autograph session, rather a list of NASCAR stars that have defected from Ford-backed teams since 2003.

All moved on for different reasons, certainly, and most of which had nothing to do with Ford Motor Company, specifically. But the net effect on Ford is considerable: Where'd all the stars go? And why?

Jarrett, the 1999 Cup Series champion, had an opinion of the mass exodus, and whether Ford could keep up.

To keep up they must step up, he said.

"Ford has slacked off [its support] a little bit … over the years," he said. "From the technology side of it, I do think they haven't put the effort there that the other manufacturers have."

Make no mistake, Jarrett was quick to mention that his former team, Robert Yates Racing, as well as Ford flagships Roush Racing and Wood Brothers Racing, are all plenty capable. But to realize full potential, he said, Ford must increase its factory support of its teams -- more now than ever given Toyota's entry into the game.

"They're still very strong, still have some good teams out there, but it's going to continue to cost money to be successful in this sport and you're going to have to put those dollars out there," Jarrett said. "And when the company itself is struggling a little bit it makes it more difficult. So they're going to have to realize that's what they're going to have to do."

Maybe some teams have themselves to blame. Interestingly enough, some Ford team members admit they're reluctant to utilize the resources at their disposal for fear it will result in unwanted information sharing.

Jarrett left Yates for Michael Waltrip Racing, a Toyota-backed team. He said the difference in factory support is significant, but scoffs at the notion that Toyota is cherry-picking talent from other organizations.

"They're off base saying Toyota's coming in and buying people off," Jarrett said. "I know there were a number of people from Robert Yates Racing, before they knew they were going to have the second car back again, that talked over here and they were making more money [at RYR] than what they were being offered at Michael Waltrip Racing.

"Is Toyota stepping things up from an engineering standpoint? Absolutely. That's where [Ford is] going to [have to] step it up. Dodge did the exact same thing when they came in.

"They had a huge engineering staff and technology there. It's going to be a battle, and it's going to be a feud, but Ford's going to have to step up and keep up with the program."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.