Chevy Camaros struggle in first outing at intermediate track

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A week ago, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 made its Cup debut in the best way possible.

The Camaro finished 1-2 in the Daytona 500 with Austin Dillon winning and Darrell Wallace Jr. second.

Dillon snapped a winless streak for Chevrolet of 10 races, or the entirety of the 2017 playoffs.

Five Chevrolet drivers finished in the top 10.

But that was Daytona.

Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the model’s first run at an intermediate track in race conditions. That came on one of the sport’s oldest track surfaces on an overcast day that threatened rain.

The result was no Chevrolet driver even sniffing the front after the first 85-lap stage. Ryan Newman was a brief bright spot, leading the first 17 laps after starting second.

At the end of the 325-lap race, only three Chevrolets placed in the top 15. That’s the fewest since three finished in the top 15 in the fall Texas race last year.

The Chevrolet cars were led by Kyle Larson in ninth. Chase Elliott followed in 10th and Dillon finished 14th, the first car a lap down.

Larson pointed at the rain-delayed race finishing under the lights as cause of some of his problems.

“Our car was just too tight on the last run to pick up spots,” he said. “Racing into the night was obviously not really in the plan yesterday, but our guys did a good job keeping up with the track.”

Despite his fourth top 10 in the last five races, Elliott was blunt about his day, which began with him starting 27th.

“Not real good to be honest with you,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. Fighting to stay on the lead lap is not where you want to be. We will go to work and great job by our NAPA team today to salvage what we could.  I don’t know how much more we really could have got there, maybe a spot or two there at the end, but I felt like we did a pretty good job making the most of what we had.”

Can his Hendrick team figure out its problems in the next month?

“I hope so,” Elliott said.

The next stop for the series is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where a two-day organizational test was held earlier this month.

Larson had the fastest speeds for both days of the test. 

Elliott wasn’t the Hendrick driver who made the trip to Vegas, though he took part in a January tire test at Texas Motor Speedway.

Rookie William Byron took part in the test in the No. 24 Chevrolet. He was second fastest on the first day and fifth fastest on the second day.

On Sunday, Byron was the top finishing Chevrolet driver after Dillon, placing 18th, two laps down in his first Cup race at a 1.5-mile track.

“We started the race so loose and I just had to work on dropping the trackbar quicker,” Byron said. “I just didn’t do it quick enough.  I’m not used to having that, so, we gained on it a lot. I felt like by probably the seventh or eighth pit stop we were at our best potential. And then from there we just kind of leveled off. Just trying to find rear grip, but overall it was fun out there.”

Going forward, Byron said the most important thing he learned was “trying to keep the tires underneath you” and keeping up with adjustments “so you just stay ahead of the game with the way your car is handling.”