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Ford teams hoping new inspection process helps keep teams close

The engines had barely cooled after last season’s finale in Miami when a warning about the 2018 season was issued and what Ford teams might face.

“I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see,’’ Brad Keselowski said then.

Chevrolet debuts the Camaro ZL1 this season, a year after Toyota dominated with its updated Camry. Toyota won 14 of the last 19 races, including eight of 10 playoff races and the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

The newer models from Chevrolet and Toyota have raised concerns for some Ford drivers. Some say, they have to work harder to compete. Others note that NASCAR’s new inspection process could help keep one manufacturer from pulling ahead.

“If the new Hawkeye system is put in place and implemented for 2018 fully, not partially, fully, it would certainly level the playing field for Ford by enforcing the rules,’’ Brad Keselowski said of the new inspection station.

The new camera-based inspection station that has been called the Hawkeye system will encompass the grid station, laser inspection station, template module station and weights from last year. The new system will scrutinize the car in a way it hasn’t before.

“You just have to play the cards you’re dealt and we’ll see how that goes,’’ said Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “I think the Hawkeye system could maybe cut some deficit down for us that Toyota had built into their cars based off the old inspection system. We’ll just see how it goes.’’

Ryan Blaney said: “Even though we don’t have a new car coming out we have to work that much harder. The mindset hasn’t changed in the shop. We are always looking for ways to improve our cars, whether mechanical or aero. Yeah, there was a push maybe from other years where maybe we were more strong and you don’t feel like you have to lay catch-up a much but honestly we have a little catch-up to make on (Truex’s team) and other cars that were so dominant last year.’’

Even with Ford’s struggles last year, the manufacturer placed two cars in the championship race in Miami — Chevrolet had none, which a Chevy executive called “unacceptable.’’ Also, Kevin Harvick won at Texas last fall, providing hope that the Fords can compete with the other car makes.

Harvick said his team will have to continue to work hard maintain his level of excellence (14 Cup wins since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014).

“We have a car that is designed for a huge spoiler in the back and is the oldest car on the race track compared to the other manufacturers,’’ Harvick said. “It took us a little bit to get things situated last year with the balance. We could face those balance issues again this year that we might have to work through as we go into the year just because of the way they are going to inspect the cars with the Hawkeye system.

“With the new splitter rules you are looking at a few hundred pounds of downforce taken off the cars. There are no rule changes but everything had to be cut off in every shop.

“We worked through those issues last year. It took us a bit but we might have to work at them again.”

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