Chad Knaus, entering his second season as crew chief on William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, addressed the new Camaro model Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”
“The unknown is obviously the car. That’s just going to take a little bit of time,” said Knaus, the last crew chief for a Chevrolet team to compete in the Cup Series’ Championship 4, when he and Jimmie Johnson won their seventh title in 2016.
In the Camaro’s first two years, Chevy teams have won 11 races, including four in 2018, while Ford won 29 races and Toyota won 32 races.
Knaus predicted the rollout of the new model will be “significantly different” to the Camaro’s debut in 2018.
“We’re more educated, we’re better prepared,” Knaus said. “What happened when we we brought out the new car is at the exact same time NASCAR changed the way they were inspecting the cars and employing the Hawkeye laser scanner, right? The older car, when it was designed, wasn’t really built for that. We had a little bit more leeway, we could have manipulated it let’s say just a little bit better to get some performance out of it. Well, with the restrictions that NASCAR’s put on us with the surface conformance all the way around the car, we didn’t have that ability.
“So that car was, it came out behind, does that make sense? With those rules, we weren’t able get on top of it. I do feel this car is coming out of the gate stronger. You never know that until you hit the race track, obviously. But I do feel it’s better and we’re going to be able to go out there and race a little bit better, which is great for Axalta and all our sponsors, they’re expecting that.”
The Camaro ZL1 1LE model will see its first track action Feb. 8 when teams practice at Daytona International Speedway for the Feb. 9 Busch Clash and Feb. 9 Daytona 500 qualifying.
The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.
Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.
Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”
Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina
Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.
It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.
Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo
The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.
Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird
“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.
He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.
Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix
The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.
Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.
Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle
A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.
The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.
Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird
One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.
Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.
The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.
Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal
Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.
Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.
Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.
Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.
Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150
Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”
Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.
Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix
Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.
Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.
Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal
Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.
His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.
David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino
Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.
Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.
Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.
Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.
Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.
Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.
In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.
Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet
Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.
The seven-time champion will have one last go at earning a record eighth title before retiring from full-time Cup racing. He’ll also try to end a 95-race losing streak that dates to June 2017. A win by Johnson would give him 84 and move him into a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth all-time.
The defending Cup champion is within milestones in all three of NASCAR’s national series. He’s four Cup wins away from 60, four Xfinity Series wins from 100 and four Truck Series wins away from 60. Busch has said once he reaches 100 Xfinity Series wins he’d stop competing in the series unless car owner Joe Gibbs needed him to fill in.
With 56 career victories, Busch is seventh on the all-time wins list. Dale Earnhardt is sixth with 76 victories.
A win by Busch this year would give him wins in 16 straight seasons. That would match Jimmie Johnson’s streak from 2002-17. Richard Petty had 18 straight seasons with a win (1960-77) and David Pearson had 17 straight seasons with a win (1964-80).
The 2014 Cup champion needs one win to reach 50 for his career. He’s currently tied for 11th on the all-time wins list with his team owner, Tony Stewart. Harvick has 1,151 starts across NASCAR’s three nationals series. Thirty four starts this year will match him with Richard Petty for second all-time. Joe Nemechek has the most all-time with 1,188.
After earning six wins in 2019, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver needs three more to reach 40 Cup wins. He’s currently tied with Hall of Hamer Bobby Isaac. Should Hamlin win the Daytona 500, he’d be the first driver to win the race in back-to-back seasons since Sterling Marlin (1994-95).
The 2017 Cup champion could reach 30 career wins this season. He has 26. Of note, every eligible retired driver who has 30 or more Cup wins is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Five active drivers have 30 or more wins: Brad Keselowski (30 wins), Kurt Busch (31), Hamlin (37), Harvick (49) and Kyle Buch (56).
In his second season with Roush Fenway Racing, Newman is within two victories of 20 career wins. He’s been stuck there since 2017 when he won the spring race at Phoenix Raceway. A win would give Newman a victory with all four organizations he’s competed for in Cup (Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing are the others). Roush is winless in the last 91 races.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver should reach 700 Cup Series starts this season. He’s 16 starts away from the mark and is scheduled to reach it June 14 at Sonoma Raceway. Among active full-time Cup drivers, Busch’s 684 starts are the most.
The Team Penske drivers should both reach 400 career starts this season. Logano will reach the mark in the Daytona 500, while Keselowski needs 23 starts. He’s scheduled to make start No. 400 on Aug. 9 at his home track of Michigan International Speedway (Keselowski has yet to win there).
McDowell and Almirola are each set to reach 350 Cup Series starts this season. McDowell is scheduled to reach that mark Sept. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Almirola would reach it Oct. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway. With 321 starts, McDowell trails Landon Cassill (324 starts) for most starts among active full-time drivers without a win. StarCom Racing has not announced its plans for Cassill in 2020.
The veteran driver is set to compete full-time for Rick Ware Racing this season. It would be his first full-time Cup season since 2007 when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. Yeley is nine starts away from his 300th Cup start. He is scheduled to reach the mark April 19 at Richmond Raceway.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch climbed from his new ride Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway with a wide smile and a few shrugs at his AIM Vasser Sullivan Racing teammates.
How was the prep work going for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut?
“I was able to run some pretty decent times,” Busch said at a news conference between practice sessions during the opening day of the Roar Before the Rolex test. “That’s what the guys said anyway. I don’t know.”
Rarely does Busch, quite possibly the most demanding and exacting driver in NASCAR’s premier series, find himself at a loss for explaining all of the nuances that make a race car handle at optimum speed.
Which made Friday’s indoctrination at Daytona a sometimes disorienting mix of confusion alleviated by maximum camaraderie for the two-time Cup champion, who constantly was surrounded by helpful faces.
“Everyone has done a great job of welcoming me in and making me feel part of the team, getting me up to speed, getting me accustomed and used to what this form of racing is and what it entails,” said Busch, who is only six weeks removed from his second title. “But certainly a lot to improve on still. I’ve got my NASCAR driving techniques just embedded in my brain. I’ve got to get rid of those a little bit more.
“Getting more accustomed to what this car can take and what the driving techniques are that are different between the two vehicles take is certainly a lot.”
The team’s two cars had 90 minutes over two practices to break in the most famous of its eight drivers for the 24-hour endurance classic, which will take place Jan 25-26.
Busch did two stints Friday over the course of about 35 minutes in the No. 14 Lexus during the opening session. After Jack Hawksworth shook down the car for about 20 minutes, Busch climbed in at 11:25 a.m. and was within 3 seconds of his teammate during a 10-lap stint.
After an 8-minute pit stop for adjustments, Busch shaved off another second over a 14-minute run in the car in which he posted lap times the team felt was respectable.
“He’s right where he should be,” said Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson, one of several executives in the AIM Vasser Sullivan pit to observe Busch at the test. “So much of endurance racing is about confidence and being comfortable.”
Traffic and technology also will be the two major hurdles for Busch getting acclimated to sports cars. AIM Vasser Sullivan races in the GTD division, which is about 10 seconds slower around the 3.56-mile road course than the premier DPi prototype class.
That means Busch (who had one other IMSA start at Daytona nearly 12 years ago in a prototype) will be getting lapped much more often than which he is accustomed in Cup. In a role reversal of sorts, NASCAR veteran Cody Ware will be competing against Busch in the faster LMP2 division for the Rolex 24.
Especially when racing at night, Busch will rely on spotter Tony Hirschman to keep him abreast of the divergent speeds (which he also can distinguish through the varying colors of the cars’ lights).
He will be navigating the field while also adapting to cars that stop on a dime because of sophisticated antilock braking systems that are much different than his No. 18 Toyota in Cup.
“The braking is certainly the biggest adjustment,” Busch said. “I’m used to our big heavy stock cars, where you have to start the slowdown process way early, and the braking zone is forever. By the time you turn in, you have to be off the brakes because otherwise the inside wheels lock up, and you’ll skid the tires. So you also have to take care of our brakes on the Cup cars because they’re so heavy and steel and you can really overheat them.
“Completely different techniques that you have to work with on these cars. You can drive the snot out of them. You can throw it off into the corner as far as you feel you can get in there. And stomp the pedal as hard as your leg will allow you to do it.”
Busch spent some of Friday finding those limits, once driving 50 feet deeper into a chicane than teammate Jack Hawksworth. “That was too far,” Busch chuckled. “Noted.”
He had many places to look for advice. Townsend Bell, the NBC Sports analyst who also drives for the team, offered encouragement and pointers for several minutes Friday as the first to greet Busch after his first stint.
Hawksworth, a veteran of sports cars and IndyCar who scored two class wins for AIM Vasser Sullivan last year, flew to North Carolina recently to tutor Busch through a five-hour session in the driving simulator at TRD’s Salisbury facility.
“That was very useful and a great learning tool,” he said. “Definitely learned a lot. Came out of that with a good baseline for being able to come here and have a better understanding of what to expect.
“Without that, I’d be completely lost. It was good to do that. Jack’s been my biggest help and supporter. Townsend as well, too. I’ve talked to him a few times on the phone. Having Jack hands on with us at the test and being my teammate here has been big.”
But yet Busch also sheepishly confessed to at least one instance in which “I’m already trying to set up the car.
“It’s got understeer here, oversteer there or whatever. I suggested us going softer (on the setup), and they’re like, ‘We’re as soft as we can get,’ and I said “Well, that ain’t soft enough!’
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that we’re as soft as we can go. You always think of different ways of being able to engineer something. Obviously, there’s a rulebook as well, too, and I have no familiarity with any of that. So I could be totally off base to what my team already knows and I don’t.”
The Rolex 24 has been unfamiliar territory for many NASCAR interlopers before Busch. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson and Busch’s older brother, Kurt, are among many who have crossed over with some success.
Buch hopes to match that as the latest interloper.
“It would mean a lot” to win, he said. “Of course I want to have fun, but more importantly, I want to go out there and win for Lexus and AIM Vasser Sullivan and be able to put on a good show for the fans that show up but also the NASCAR community as well.
“Definitely a lot of guys have shown their taste of the Rolex 24, and this is my chance to be able to do that, so just hope we can keep it all on the racetrack for the whole race and have a shot at the end.”
Here’s what the table looks like for the Cup Series heading into 2020.
New Era, New Names
After serving in the role for three years, Monster Energy is no longer the entitlement sponsor of the Cup Series. With its departure also comes the end of the Cup Series’ entitlement sponsor model that had been in place since 1971 beginning with Winston.
After five decades of being the Winston, Nextel, Sprint and finally the Monster Energy Cup Series, the premier series will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.
There’s a lot of expectations for what the Cup Series schedule will look like in 2021 after the end of NASCAR’s current five-year agreement with tracks.
But 2020 also has plenty of groundbreaking schedule developments.
– Martinsville Speedway will host its first official Cup night race on May 9. The short track also will host the final playoff elimination race for all three national series, with the Cup race held Nov. 1.
– Pocono Raceway will be the site of the Cup Series’ first ever doubleheader weekend June 27-28. Saturday’s race will be preceded by a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series event and Sunday begins with a Xfinity Series race.
– Daytona International Speedway will host the Cup regular season finale, moving its second date from the traditional July 4 weekend to Aug. 29. The July 4 weekend race is now held by Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Cup races there July 5).
– Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500 will open the Cup playoffs on Sept. 6. It’s joined in the opening round by Richmond Raceway and in the playoffs for the first time, Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be the first elimination race.
– After being the site of the first elimination race the last two seasons, the Charlotte Roval will be the Round of 12 elimination race (Oct. 11) and be preceded by Talladega Superspeedway.
– After a nearly two-decade run, Homestead-Miami Speedway is no longer the site of the championship weekend. Its place is now held by Phoenix Raceway, with the Cup championship race scheduled for Nov. 8. Miami’s Cup race will be March 22.
– Other notable changes: The Xfinity Series will compete at Martinsville (Oct. 31) for the first time since 2004. The Truck Series returns to Richmond Raceway (April 18) for the first time since 2005.
Chevrolet Cup teams will appear in Daytona with a slightly different look to their cars.
When the full Cup Series starting grid forms for the first time at the Daytona 500, there will be a lot familiar faces sporting new numbers with new teams. That includes a rather accomplished rookie class.
– Matt DiBenedetto debuts with Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford, moving over from Leavine Family Racing and taking over for Paul Menard, who retired from full-time racing.
– Cole Custer and crew chief Mike Shiplett were promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to take over its No. 41 Cup car, taking the place of Daniel Suarez. Suarez has not announced his plans for this season. SHR has not announced plans for its Xfinity program in 2020.