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Friday 5: Chevrolet’s struggles harken back to 1982

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Ten races into the Cup season, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1’s debut is starting to reach historic proportions.

Not since 1982 — before Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were born — has Chevrolet failed to lead a lap in three races in the same season. It’s already happened this year. No Chevrolet paced the field at Las Vegas, Martinsville and Richmond.

Only 11 times in the 656 Cup races run since the beginning of the 2000 season has Chevrolet failed to lead at least a lap in a race.

A couple of other races nearly joined that list this season. Chevy teams led three of 200 laps at Auto Club Speedway and five of 334 laps at Texas Motor Speedway.

That Chevrolet didn’t lead a lap at Las Vegas and struggled to do so at Auto Club and Texas — tracks where aero plays a key role — is a concern.

The Camaro’s woes, though, are not surprising. There can be teething problems when working with a new car. Look back to last season when Toyota ran a new Camry body. Toyota won one of the first 10 races (same as Chevrolet this season with that victory by Dillon in the Daytona 500).

In the first 10 races of last season, Toyota teams won one race, had eight top-five finishes and 23 top 10s.

In the first 10 races this season, Chevrolet teams have won one race, had 12 top-five finishes and 28 top 10s.

Keep in mind that there are more Chevy teams than Toyota teams, so Chevy teams should have better numbers.

Take out the two restrictor-plate races, the Daytona 500 and the spring Talladega race, this year and last year and the numbers are closer between the models.

Toyota had one win, seven top-five finishes and 21 top 10s in the first eight non-plate races last year

Chevrolet has no wins, eight top-five finishes and 20 top 10s in those same events this year.

This doesn’t guarantee that Chevrolet will continue to struggle. Toyota won two of the first 17 races last year — both by Martin Truex Jr. — before winning 14 of the final 19 races.

One difference is that NASCAR employs the Optical Scanning Station this season to tech cars. The station has been credited with helping Ford, which has the oldest body among the manufacturers, remain competitive because of how closely the station can scan a car. More rigorous inspections can keep cars even. Of course, that also could make it more difficult for Chevrolet teams to find the speed in their cars to be more competitive.

The two Chevy drivers who have shown the most promise this season are Larson and Elliott.

Larson has been the top-finishing Chevy driver in four races and Elliott has held that honor three times.

Rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500 and scored an eighth-place finish at Texas. He noted this week that his team has more work to do with refining his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

“We need more raw speed out of our car,’’ he said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.

“We’re finding some things, for sure. We look back at Richmond. We weren’t really a big factor, but our car drove really good. So, we’re still trying to figure out where we were so far off, but we had the handling down to a T. I felt like we were the best car there handling-wise but speed-wise we were one of the slowest.’’

Said Dillon on Friday at Dover: “We’ve been decent all year long, we haven’t had the speed and there are reasons for the speed not being there. As far as Chevy as a whole right now, we’re working to find the speed.’’

Here’s a look at the Cup races since 2000 where Chevrolet did not lead a lap in the event:

April 21, 2018 — Richmond

March 26, 2018 — Martinsville

March 4, 2018 — Las Vegas

July 24, 2016 — Indianapolis

Sept. 12, 2015 — Richmond

August 22, 2015 — Bristol

June 28, 2014 — Kentucky

October 20, 2002 — Martinsville

October 28, 2001 — Phoenix

August 19, 2001 — Michigan

September 17, 2000 — New Hampshire

2. Learning the way

Paul Menard, in his first season with the Wood Brothers, scored the team’s first stage win of the season last weekend at Talladega.

The Wood Brothers are aligned with Team Penske, so that means Menard takes part in competition meetings with Penske drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and their teams.

“We’re all very different people and we have different perspectives, which is interesting,’’ Menard said. “The way that Brad breaks down his car is much different than Joey and much different than Ryan.’’

Menard compares his time with the Wood Brothers with his early time at Richard Childress Racing.

“When I first went there, we had some really fast cars and then we got off,’’ said Menard, who drove for RCR from 2011-17. “So in the last couple of years, every week was trying to dig out of a hole basically. This year there’s really no hole to dig out of, kind of have a proven package and more fine-tuning than swinging for the fences.’’

3. Father vs. son

Today’s Camping World Truck Series race at Dover will pit David Gilliland against his son Todd in a race for only the second time.

The only other time they ran against each other was in July 2014 in a Super Late Model race at Irwindale Speedway. Also in that race was David’s father (Todd’s grandfather) Butch to make it a three-generation race.

David Gilliland said Thursday he’s excited about today’s race.

“I’ve got into a lot of races in my career,’’ David Gilliland said. “I’ve looked forward to a lot of them and nothing’s been like this.’’

Said Todd: “It’s cool. We’re hoping to beat each other, but also you just kind of focus on the real race out there. It’s going to be good.’’

4. A different driver each race

The Xfinity Series has had a different winner in each of the first nine races of the season.

Should there be a 10th different winner Saturday at Dover, it would tie the 1987 season for the second longest streak of different winners to open a season. The record for most different winners to start a season is 13 in 1988.

The winners this year have been: Tyler Reddick (Daytona), Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Kyle Larson (Las Vegas), Brad Keselowski (Phoenix), Joey Logano (Auto Club), Ryan Blaney (Texas), Ryan Preece (Bristol), Christopher Bell (Richmond) and Spencer Gallagher (Talladega).

5. Soon …

A week from today Matt Kenseth will be back in a Cup car. He makes his return in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 at Kansas Speedway in place of Trevor Bayne. Kenseth’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, but he will run at Kansas and the following week in the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

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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.”

Chevrolet unveils Camaro ZL1 as new Cup Series model in 2018

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Chevrolet announced Thursday it will begin using a Camaro model in the NASCAR Cup Series next season.

The Camaro ZL1 will replace the SS. The Camaro SS has been used in the Xfinity Series since 2013.

GM made the announcement with Chevy team owners and drivers in Detroit at the GM Global Headquarters.

“The new Camaro ZL1 is a great-looking race car with a lot of heritage behind it, which will make it a big hit with fans,” Jimmie Johnson said in a press release. “And as someone who’s enjoyed the ZL1 on the street, I’m really looking forward to getting this new race car on the track.”

Chevrolet has raced the SS model in Cup since 2013 when it replaced the Impala. The move is being made because the SS will not be produced after this year.

While the Camaro ZL1 will make its competition debut in February at Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, it will be on-track this weekend as the pace car for the Cup Series’ Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

The ZL1 name was originally used in the 1960s on a Chevrolet-developed all-aluminum racing engine used in road racing. In 1969, a few dealers used Chevrolet’s special-order system to get the ZL1 engine installed in 69 regular-production Camaros.

The 2018 Camaro ZL1 is powered by a 650-horsepower supercharged engine featuring a similar 90-degree V-8 configuration as the Cup racing engines.

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Chevrolet unveils revised 2017 Camaro SS for Xfinity Series

(Photo by Alexis Meadows for Chevy Racing)
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Chevrolet on Thursday unveiled its 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Camaro SS at Daytona International Speedway.

The event highlighted the sixth-generation version of the Camaro, which will debut next February back at Daytona for the season opener.

“For the past 50 years, Camaro has played a key role in Chevrolet’s racing success in winning races and championships,” Chevrolet Racing director Mark Kent said in a media release. “We look forward to further success with the new Camaro SS in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.”

The new Camaro will replace the fifth-generation edition that has been in use since 2013. While major changes are minimal, the most significant refinements are to the upper nose and hood of the car.

Chevrolet drivers have earned five Xfinity Series wins this season, as well as 408 since 1982.

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