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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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Tyler Ankrum joins DGR-Crosley to contend for Rookie Truck honors

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Tyler Ankrum will move to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019 to compete for Rookie of the Year honors with DGR-Crosley, the driver and team announced on Twitter.

In 2018, Ankrum won the K&N East Championship with DGR-Crosley through four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. Ankrum won three consecutive races at Thompson (CT) Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway during the summer. His other victory came in May at South Boston (VA) Speedway.

Ankrum made two starts in the Truck series last year – scoring a top 10 in one of those races. He finished sixth at ISM Raceway.

“Taking the next step of my racing career is mind blowing,” Ankrum said in a tweet. “And I’m lucky enough to do it again with DGR-Crosley and Toyota Racing in 2019.”

Last year’s K&N Championship came in his rookie campaign in that series.

 

Vote for best 2018 Cup paint schemes

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It’s time to take stock of the 2018 Cup season.

That means voting in the best paint schemes of the year tournament.

The NBC Sports tournament has now reached its final four.

Here’s the bracket so far.

Bubba Wallace, RPM reinlist US Air Force as two-race sponsor

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Richard Petty Motorsports will continue to receive support from the United States military. On Friday, they announced the US Air Force will continue as a primary sponsor in 2019 as well as a major associate sponsor throughout the season on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43.

The two races for which the Air Force will be the primary sponsor are Saturday, July 6 at Daytona International Speedway (4th of July weekend) and Sunday, Nov. 10 (Veteran’s Day weekend) at ISM Raceway. Last year during his rookie campaign, Wallace finished in the top 15 in both of those races. He was 14th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and 10th at ISM.

“The Air Force continues to see benefits from our partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports and driver, Bubba Wallace,” said Major Ross McKnight, Chief, Air Force National Events Branch at Air Force Recruiting Service in a press release. “Wallace Jr. and his personality align well with our target audience’s interests and the Air Force’s commitment to teamwork and technology. The combination of Bubba Wallace and the iconic No. 43 provides a continuing sponsorship opportunity that reflects our Air Force core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence, as well as has a positive impact on generating public awareness about the U.S. Air Force, our people and our mission.

“Like NASCAR, much of our work is based on science, technology, engineering and math principles combined with teamwork and training. This sponsorship is a great way to highlight that connection.”

Last year, Wallace visited four Air Force bases. He participated in drills at each and flew in an F-16 with the 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” at Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

“I was really impressed with all the different aspects of the Air Force, and the different opportunities they offer,” said Wallace Jr. “I was able to visit different bases and see the Airmen in action and actually participate myself. That gets me excited and then I’m able to talk to inspiring students who are looking at a career in the Air Force. I’m pretty humbled to represent the Air Force.”

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John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe approved to run for Xfinity Rookie of the Year

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NASCAR has approved John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe to compete for the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title in 2019, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Nemechek made 18 Xfinity starts in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing while Briscoe made 17 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

Nemechek will compete for GMS Racing in the No. 23 Chevrolet. Briscoe will drive the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Nemechek was announced on Dec. 6 as joining GMS Racing, a team press release said he would compete for Rookie of the Year. But a NASCAR spokesperson said his eligibility had not been decided on at the time.

The Rookie of the Year title was not mentioned in SHR’s Nov. 27 press release about Briscoe going full-time.

The Xfinity rookie field next year will include Nemechek, Briscoe, Noah Gragson in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet and Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet.

Briscoe said in an Q&A on Reddit he was “honestly surprised” he was approved.

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