For the longest time in the NASCAR Cup Series, the Chevrolet brand ruled supreme. Wins were commonplace, drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships were expected and always seemed to come in bunches. Quite simply, it was good to be a part of Team Chevy.
But for the third consecutive season, Chevrolet will not be represented in the title race. Four drivers have earned the manufacturer just seven wins this year while Jimmie Johnson won the last drivers’ crown in 2016. And not since ’15 has Chevrolet captured the manufacturers’ championship.
What happened? Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports, was asked that very question Saturday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In trying to make sense of it, Campbell pointed to a few different variables.
“One, we’ve had long-term relationships with the big three teams,” he began. “50 years with Richard Childress, 35 plus years with Rick Hendrick, 10-plus years with Ganassi, and a lot of the affiliates have been with us for quite a while. If you look at the drivers, we’ve had some amazing young drivers that turned into winning drivers that turned into championship drivers that then retired, and so we have a younger crew.”
Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. went from the young guns to being former competitors. Gordon retired after 2015. Stewart after 2016. Earnhardt in ’17.
If Johnson, 44, and Kurt Busch, 41, were taken out of the equation, the average age of the Chevrolet stable nowadays would likely be less than 30. Or look at someone like Kevin Harvick, who drove and won in a Chevrolet for over 10 years before his team switched manufacturers.
While it’s exciting to watch drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Ryan Preece progressing, the experience is limited — for some, that means less than a handful of visits to certain racetracks.
“Secondly, we switched the car from the SS to the Camaro ZL1, and I think we were hopeful we had done a great job on that,” said Campbell. “Six of our seven races were won in the back half of the season, so I do see improvement there.
“Next year we’re going to come out with the ZL1 1LE, and in the production side of our world, that’s our highest-performing production car. Similar to the ZL1, but it has kind of higher-performance elements to it from aero to chassis, and so we’ve incorporated those into the 2020 car.”
Chevrolet won four races in its debut 2018 season with the Camaro.
Success has been consistently better on the Xfinity Series side, with the last two drivers (Byron and Tyler Reddick) and manufacturers’ championships, and Chevy has two of the four drivers competing for this year’s title. They also won the ’18 manufacturers’ title in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
“Listen, we’re a performance sport, so there’s no excuses here,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to do better. We expect to do better. If you look at the history of Chevrolet, 39 manufacturers; championships, 31 drivers’, but that’s all history. We’re interested in the next chapter, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Probed for more specifics on the changes to the car for next season, Campbell confirmed the front nose had been “softened” and will help drivers bump draft better. He reiterated — but did not elaborate on — the addition of new aero elements from the production car that were applied to the race car.
“So I think that we went to the (wind) tunnel, we did our submission with NASCAR,” said Campbell. “I think on the rear, we didn’t do the rendering of the rear of the car, but it looks more like the production car, which I like a lot. But again, it’s a performance sport. It’s a new car, it’s all about how we perform, and so that’s our focus.”