While Ford waits for changes, Chevrolet counting on new Camaro

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota, are ready to kick off the 2018 Cup series season. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chevrolet debuts a new body style this NASCAR season, while the Ford drivers will have to wait until 2019 for a change that could take advantage of current car specifications.

Many think the Mustang could very well be coming next year -- for the record, Ford officials are mum on the issue -- and it wouldn't be a day too soon.

"We have a car that was designed for a huge spoiler in the back and is definitely the oldest car [Fusion] on the racetrack compared to the other manufacturers," said Kevin Harvick, a Ford driver and one of the four championship finalists last year whose Stewart-Haas Racing organization seemed to improve throughout the season.

Harvick was not bemoaning the issue -- he was just addressing what will be one of the big questions of 2018: Will Toyota appear to have a little bit of an advantage? Will Chevrolet's new Camaro take what Toyota did with the 2017 revisions of the Camry (which didn't debut on the street until the middle of last year as a 2018 model) and build on it, or at the very least match it?

And what will Ford teams do during 2018?

"We could be in a position to where we have some balance issues with the race car, but if we are going to have a problem at SHR and we put it on our aero department, I will put that up against anybody," Harvick said.

Chase Elliott debuted the Camaro in a tire test at Texas Motor Speedway last month. He couldn't tell all that much difference except that it looks better.

"When you're out there running by yourself at test sessions, it's just a false representation of speed," Elliott said. "We've gone to tests over my first two years, and we've been really good at tests.

"I'm like, I can't wait to get back to this race. We come back, it sucks. I don't think that's a fair judge because it's just a false representation of what goes on."

Maybe the biggest difference won't even come on the racetrack. It could come before the cars hit the track.

The new NASCAR "Hawkeye" laser and camera inspection system that combines the template station (which inspects the shape of the body) and the laser platform (which inspects how the body sits on the chassis as well as camber) could have an impact.

Instead of NASCAR using metal templates to measure the body panels, the cars will be scanned, likely resulting in a much more accurate measurement.

"Everybody is going to have less downforce than they did last year just because of the new Hawkeye system, just because of how they are teching the cars now," said Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray (who drives a Chevrolet). "It is a little bit of an unknown.

"We know the difference from where we were last year until now. But, you just don't know the difference for everybody else. Until we get to Atlanta, we aren't going to have any idea."

It likely won't be until Texas before anyone truly has an idea about the Camaro. The Texas race comes five weeks after the intermediate back-to-back events at Atlanta and Las Vegas. Anything that can be changed that works will show the ability to adjust quickly and improve the car.

"It took us a little bit to get things situated last year with the balance," Harvick said. "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 that they are going to inspect the cars with the Hawkeye system. ... You are looking at a few hundred pounds of downforce that's been taken off the cars.

"There are no rule changes, but everybody had to be cut off in every shop. So it is different."

Brad Keselowski, who indicated that all teams manipulated the template system in some way last year, said only if body rules for competitive parity are enforced with the new inspection system will it make a difference.

"When cars are submitted to NASCAR, they all have to have the same performance criteria, but there has not been a system ... to fully enforce what you actually race," Keselowski said. "The Hawkeye system is intended to fully enforce. None of us were [within the criteria]."

The new Ford design for 2019 likely already has been submitted to NASCAR. During the approval process, NASCAR takes the new car to the wind tunnel with all the manufacturers so they can see the data.

"I would love to have it right now," Kurt Busch said about the potential of a new Ford body. "I would love to go with any new technology and the way that the rules are. I was surprised we had a 2018 Camry racing in 2017. That was a little bit of a surprise to start last year.

"With the Camaro this year [coming], Ford will get its chance, but that is all part of the game behind the scenes."