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Ford teams hoping new inspection process helps keep teams close

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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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Brad Keselowski wins pole for New Hampshire Xfinity race

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Brad Keselowski will start first in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski claimed the pole for the Lakes Region 200 (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a speed of 130.296 mph.

It’s his second pole in three starts this season and his fifth pole in 10 starts at the 1-mile track.

Keselowski is trying to win his fourth straight Xfinity race.

The Team Penske driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (130.126 mph).

The top five is completed by Ryan Preece, Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek.

Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric, Kaz Grala, Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett and Ross Chastain did not advance out of the second round.

During the first round the red flag came out with 6:25 left due to fluid on the track from Ryan Reed‘s No. 16 Ford.

Reed will start last.

Click here for qualifying results.

 

Today’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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Last year, Ryan Preece finished second to Kyle Busch in this race. Preece takes over the car that beat him last year and hopes to improve by one position. He’ll have to beat Cup regulars Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon to do so.

Here’s all the info for today’s Xfinity race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.05-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Boston Sports Team Vocalist John Robert Murphy will perform the anthem at 4:01 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Jodie Cunningham at 3:58 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 78 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch beat his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ryan Preece by more than 10 seconds. William Byron came home third, with Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Denny Hamlin posts fastest lap in Saturday morning Cup practice

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).

Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.

There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.

Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Start time of Sunday’s Cup race moved up to 1 pm ET

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LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.

NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.

The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.

Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.