For 2017, Ford Performance and Roush Yates Engines went from supplying five teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with engines, to supplying seven. One team that clearly is benefiting from Ford’s increased presence in the sport is Roush Fenway Racing.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished ninth in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, marking the RFR driver’s best result so far this year. Stenhouse fought hard on his way to a top-10 finish, keeping a charging Kyle Larson at bay during Stage 2, and his drive highlighted what a relatively strong start Roush has had this year.

So far in 2017, Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne have finished an average of 4 1/2 positions higher than they did in the first four races of 2016, and arguably could have done better.

Stenhouse failed to crack the top 30 in the Daytona 500 and Kobalt 400, though those were due to an accident-filled race and mechanical issue, respectively. Bayne’s results seemingly are more representative of RFR’s true pace, finishing in 10th, 12th, 13th and 19th in the first four races.

Ford came out of the gates strong this year, winning two of the first four races, including Kurt Busch’s win at Daytona International Speedway. RFR therefore has the potential to continue to improve on its already impressive start.

The addition of two Ford-backed teams might not seem significant, but that’s a total of five additional cars running its engines. That helps not only to develop them and find more performance, but also to learn about how to extract all the performance they currently have.

If Roush’s pace so far is evidence, it definitely seems to be making a difference.

Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images