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Ford Performance boss says manufacturer will be more aggressive in seeking young drivers

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400 by Janssen

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 20: Dave Pericak, director of Ford performance, speaks at a press conference prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 20, 2015 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

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The head of Ford Performance says that the manufacturer will be more active in seeking and securing young drivers.

“We need to have more involvement going forward,’’ Dave Pericak, director Ford Performance, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday. “We have to make sure that we constantly have a good lineup of drivers across the board that are ready to fill the seats when it’s time.’’

The need to find young talent is because manufacturers have gotten more aggressive about keeping such drivers under contract in recent years. Toyota had Kyle Larson in its camp before he went to Chevrolet-affiliated Chip Ganassi Racing. Ford lost Jeff Gordon to Chevy and once sued Kasey Kahne for breach of contract when he signed with Ray Evernham’s Dodge team.

Pericak’s comments come as the sport cycles toward more young racers with a group of drivers retiring or closing in on that point.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon retired last season and was replaced by 20-year-old Chase Elliott. Tony Stewart will retire after this season and be replaced by 37-year-old Clint Bowyer.

Six drivers, including three former champions, will be 40 or older when the 2017 Sprint Cup season begins.

Toyota has stockpiled young drivers in NASCAR’s feeder series. Eighteen-year-old William Byron leads the Camping World Truck Series standings after his fourth series victory last weekend at Kentucky, 24-year-old Daniel Suarez leads the Xfinity standings and 20-year-old Erik Jones has won two Xfinity races this season.

Toyota also has 19-year-old Ben Rhodes, 19-year-old Cameron Hayley, 21-year-old Christopher Bell and 24-year-old Rico Abreu competing for its teams in the Camping World Truck Series.

Ford has the youngest lineup of drivers in the Sprint Cup Series among the three manufacturers. Ford has seven Cup drivers in their 20s: Ryan Blaney (22), Chris Buescher (23), Trevor Bayne (25), Joey Logano (26), Landon Cassill (27), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (28) and Brian Scott (28).

With Stewart-Haas Racing switching to Ford next year, the manufacturer will add four drivers 34 and older: Danica Patrick (34), Clint Bowyer (37), Kurt Busch (turns 38 in August) and Kevin Harvick (turns 41 in December). The only current Ford driver older than all four is Greg Biffle, who is 46 years old.

In the Xfinity Series, Ford has Roush Fenway Racing drivers Ryan Reed (22) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (22). In the Camping World Truck Series, Ford has Brad Keselowski Racing drivers Tyler Reddick (20) and Daniel Hemric (25).

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