Ford held its head high and beat its chest after the 2018 season and with good reason.

Its venerable Fusion — driver Clint Bowyer referred to it as a “rental car” — was exceptional.

Ford drivers won 20 of the 36 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and captured the manufacturers’ championship as Team Penske’s Joey Logano navigated to the drivers’ title.

Those victories and celebrations have been folded into the NASCAR record book and a new season has dawned with Ford facing a daunting task — getting its Mustang quickly up to speed with the Chevrolet Camaro and Toyota Camry.

The latest Camry was introduced in 2017 and Toyota scored only a pair of wins in its first 17 starts. The Camaro made its debut in 2018 and took home a meager four wins.

Now, Ford has pushed all its stock-car chips into the middle of the table with the Mustang after the company decided to take the Fusion off the assembly line in 2020.

Logano said he’s not worried because of NASCAR’s new engine/aero rules for tracks longer than a mile. All three manufacturers have to come up with new, competitive packages. The 2018 notebook won’t work in 2019.

“If there was a time to switch to the Mustang, this was the year because there was a rules change coming with it,” said Logano, who drives the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. “If you looked at Toyota and Chevy, when they switched to their new body there was a learning curve for them, and there will be a learning curve for us.

“So, the timing of this decision by Ford and the race teams affiliated with them, I think, is perfect. It’s as good as it can be. Maybe we have a little bit more to learn than the other teams or the other manufacturers, but I do think this is the time to do it and it’s gonna work out well, I think.”

Bowyer, who wheels the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, is all for the change. He believes the Mustang was built for this kind of racing. 

“We got a Mustang in the stable and we were racing Fusions?” said Bowyer during NASCAR media day at Daytona International Speedway. “I never understood that.

“The stage is set the way it’s supposed to be in our sport. You are supposed to have the muscle cars. These are car guys coming to watch our races and certainly the Mustang has been around forever.”

Bowyer observed Toyota and Chevy struggle with their new stock cars and said Ford executives and engineers paid close attention.

“We had the opportunity to watch both of them and determine what’s gonna work,” he said. “We know what worked before on our Fusions and try to tie it all that together.

“They had time to do that. I think that’s why we’re aren’t going to struggle as much as the others because this isn’t out of the clear blue. They spent a lot of hard work over a long time to perfect it.”

Ford has participated in some competition testing, performed well in Daytona 500 qualifying and had a top-5 finish in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.

“It’s hard to tell yet,” Toyota driver Erik Jones said of the Fords. “They are always strong on superspeedways, but it will be tough to see until we get to Atlanta (for Race 2). That’s when we’ll see what they really got.

“The rules package is gonna be a lot different. They were strong in qualifying and looked good in the Clash and I’m sure they’ll be a threat on Sunday.”