Race fans got the world's first public look at the new Ford Fusion racecar on July 16 at Kentucky Speedway during the Ford Racing Innovation Drive.

The 2006 Ford Fusion race car, based on the production model that will hit showrooms this fall, will be driven by eight Ford-sponsored NASCAR drivers next year, including reigning Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch.

The Fusion was officially being named Ford Racing's new racecar for NASCAR competition earlier this week in Charlotte, N.C., and was immediately transported to the Kentucky Speedway where it will be on display at Saturday's Ford Innovation Drive. A big crowd of racing fans and the general public will be the first public test drivers in the world to take the production model Fusion for a spin, playing out their Walter Mitty fantasies on the Speedway track.. The Kentucky Speedway test drive is the first of nine Ford Racing Innovation Drives for consumers nationwide. In addition to the production Fusion, consumers will also be able to take the hot new Mustang GT and other Ford vehicles through their paces.

The 2006 NASCAR Ford Fusion will make its competition debut at the 2006 Daytona 500 in February, and Ford teams will use it in next year's NASCAR Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship, as well as Busch Series competition.

"We're thrilled to be unveiling the new Fusion," said Burt Diamond, global marketing manager, Ford Racing Technology. "The Fusion production car represents a fresh, new attitude for Ford in the mid-size sedan lineup. This Fusion race car has the same bold look, and it represents an all-new era in our Ford NASCAR racing program." Diamond and Ben Poore, Ford car marketing manager, will be available for media interviews at the Speedway on Saturday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The 2006 Fusion will become Ford's first all-new nameplate car for NASCAR racing in 38 years, since the 1968 Ford Torino made its debut in both the showroom and on the race track.

"The Fusion represents the new face of Ford cars," added Poore.. "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."

The NASCAR Fusion will replace the Ford Taurus racecar, which has captured four NASCAR championships (three Nextel Cup, one Busch), and 100 Nextel Cup victories since it made its competition debut in 1998.

"We'd like to send Taurus out with one more championship," said Diamond, noting six Ford drivers are currently in contention to qualify for the final, 10-race Nextel Chase for the Championship. "But the time is right to move on to Fusion."

Ford submitted the Fusion to NASCAR officials several weeks ago, and is awaiting a final, on-track test before the car is officially certified for competition.

"We've worked hand-in-hand with NASCAR on the development of this car, and we can't thank them enough for helping us bring the Fusion forward," said Diamond.

Ford took a different approach with the development of this racecar than it had done with previous models in the past. This time, Ford engineers did the early development with a scale model testing program that in previous new model efforts had been done by race teams.

The engineers consulted with Ford race teams and took input on the new Fusion race car, but the duo did most of the development work over the past eight months while Ford teams competed week-in and week-out in NASCAR competition.

"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 Diamond. "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 with the Fusion's dynamic new look, I think we have a car that NASCAR fans will easily recognize out on the track, in victory lane, and in their own driveway. We're excited and I know our teams are as well."

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~