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Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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Chevrolet seeks elusive Kentucky Cup win

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Chevrolet has won a lot in the Cup Series.

In fact, Chevy cars have gone to victory lane 781 times in Cup competition, most recently with Alex Bowman at Chicagoland Speedway.

But among all the active tracks the Cup Series has visited multiple times, there is one that continues to elude the bow tie: Kentucky Speedway, which the series returns to this weekend (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

The Cup Series has visited the 1.5-mile track in Sparta, Kentucky, eight times since 2011. Each time Chevrolet came up empty.

The winners of those eight races have been divided among Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and the now defunct Furniture Row Racing, which won the last two races.

Two facts put Chevy’s lack of Kentucky win in perspective.

The Cup Series has been going to Kentucky long enough that three manufacturers have won there. That would be Toyota (five wins), Ford (two wins) and … Dodge.

Yes, Dodge claimed a win at Kentucky in 2012 with Brad Keselowski. That was its final year of competition before leaving NASCAR.

Also, remember Jeff Gordon? The four-time champion and winner of 93 races won at least once on every track he raced on in Cup competition … except Kentucky. Gordon never led a lap on the oval and his best result in five starts was fifth in 2012.

How close has Chevy come to winning in Kentucky?

It’s finished second three times, with Kasey Kahne in 2012, Jamie McMurray in 2013 and Kyle Larson in 2017. None of them led a lap in their efforts.

The most promising efforts came from Jimmie Johnson in 2013 and Kevin Harvick in 2016.

Johnson 182 laps in 2013, but finished ninth after he spun on a restart on Lap 248 while defending second place from Joey Logano.

Three years later, Harvick started from the pole and led 128 laps but he lost the lead to Keselowski on a Lap 200 restart. Keselowski went the final 67 laps without pitting and won. Like Johnson, Harvick finished ninth.

Only three Chevrolet drivers in the field for Saturday’s race have won at Kentucky: Ty and Austin Dillon and William Byron.

Austin Dillon in victory lane at Kentucky Speedway in 2012. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Austin Dillon swept the Xfinity Series races there in 2012.

“Kentucky is one of those places I’ve always been pretty decent at, going back to the NASCAR Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series days,” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “We were able to win there, and any time that you head into a track that you’ve been successful at in the past you go in with some confidence.

“The repave is a few years old now (2016) so it should be fun to see how that’s shaping up. We will look forward to Kentucky as one of those places that we feel like we can run well at. At this point, we need a win in order to make it into the playoffs and that is our goal.”

Ty Dillon and Byron have one win each there in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series. Dillon won in 2013 and Byron in 2016.

“Kentucky has lost a lot of grip quickly,” Byron said in a media release. “They repaved it less than five years ago and it has really gotten grayer and grayer each year. I’m sure it’s going to be even more slick this year when we go back. It’s one of those tracks that takes a while to get rubber, so you just have to almost wait for that process to happen and make sure you tune your car to the rubber and not the clean track. That’s really all I’m worried about is once the rubber lays down you know it’s going to be a different race track.”

While Chevy hasn’t found victory lane in Kentucky, its drought comes up short of Ford and Toyota and the tracks those two manufacturers took the longest to win at.

Ford’s longest stretch occurred at Martinsville Speedway.

From the track’s opening in 1949, it took 24 races before the blue oval finally won on the short track with Fred Lorenzen in April 1961.

For Toyota, which debuted in the Cup Series in 2007, the track that plagued it the most was Auto Club Speedway.

It took 11 races on the 2-mile speedway before Kyle Busch won there in March 2013. The race total before his win was helped by Auto Club hosting two races a year from 2004-2010.

Here are the tracks Chevrolet has its fewest Cup wins at courtesy of Racing Insights.

Bump and Run: Who is next to score first win of Cup season?

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Who is the next driver to score their first win of the season?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick … and the next win will be the first of at least a few in 2019.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson gets it done at Kentucky.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kevin Harvick (but Kyle Larson is a very close candidate to also do so).

 

What do you predict will happen in the month of July in NASCAR?

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2020 driver lineup will be solidified.

Dustin Long: Something surprising from the garage. Stay tuned.

Daniel McFadin: Martin Truex Jr. gets one last monkey off his back and wins his first superspeedway race at Daytona.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think we’ll see some clarity on the Joe Gibbs Racing situation vis-a-vis Christopher Bell and Erik Jones. I also expect to see at least one more first-time winner in 2019, and at least one winless driver in 2019 finally cashes in. I also expect to hear at least one driver being announced he will not be returning to his present team for 2020.

Chevrolet teams worked together at Talladega and the result was Chase Elliott winning. Will this newfound togetherness lead to a Chevy winning at Daytona this weekend?

Nate Ryan: No; teamwork seems to matter less in the night race at Daytona (and if there’s as much attrition as last year, it probably won’t matter at all).

Dustin Long: It will help them early in the race but attrition and circumstances will make it matter less at the end.

Daniel McFadin: It’ll be a challenge. Ford will probably fight fire with fire and Toyota will put up a fight. But plans only work until they don’t. I don’t think Chevy wins in Daytona.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given how dominating Toyota has been, Chevrolet has to rip a page from Toyota’s notebook to get itself back in the middle of the hunt not only for the manufacturer’s championship, but more importantly, to get several more of its drivers back in victory lane and put pressure on Toyota.

 

Clint Bowyer has finished 35th or worse in two of the past three races and then this week he was stung by wasps in a barn. What would you suggest for Bowyer so that his bad luck might end?

Nate Ryan: The man known for amateur pyrotechnic skills should host his own personal fireworks show Thursday night above Lake Lloyd, soaking in the goodwill from the infield campers that he will dazzle on the Fourth of July.

Dustin Long: Blow something up. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ve blown something up and got to feel good.

Daniel McFadin: Put a keepsake from his son’s recent championship on the diamond in his car.

Jerry Bonkowski: Call in an exorcist – and fast, before he suffers any more bad luck.

NASCAR President anticipates changes to 2021 schedule but not wholesale moves

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While NASCAR President Steve Phelps anticipates changes to the 2021 Cup schedule, he said Friday that “I don’t think there are going to be massive wholesale changes” to the schedule.

There is an anticipation for the 2021 Cup schedule because NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks end after 2020 and give series officials more flexibility in reshaping where the series will race.

Phelps was asked about where things stood with the 2021 schedule Friday in an interview on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“We don’t have the schedule dialed in for 2021,” Phelps said. “Lots of discussions about where we would race. I think if you would look at the 2020 schedule, we moved things around and I think the fans, again from the research that we did, by and large were thrilled with the changes we made.

“I think there was an industry buzz. The drivers were excited, the teams were excited and most importantly, the fans were excited, but we’re racing at the same race tracks, the same number at each race track. So in 2021, we have new sanctions that we need to do for 2021 that will obviously dictate where we go.

“Will we go to exactly the same number of race tracks, the exact same number of events? We probably won’t. I don’t think there are going to be massive wholesale changes.

“With that said, we’re going to continue to listen to what the fans have to say because this is their sport and we need to make sure that we are giving them what they want. So a lot of listening, a lot of dialogue, working with our broadcast partners, working with our teams and our drivers, our OEM partners … hey, where do you want to be, what do you want to see, where would you like to race? So that’s the first part of the 2021 piece, a work in progress.”

Phelps also was asked about plans for the Gen 7 car, which is expected to debut in 2021.

“As it relates to a new car, it’s something we’re working very hard with our race teams and with our auto manufacturers, Chevy, Ford and Toyota, and they’ve been great partners to try to get us to where we are today,” Phelps said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I would say that we are on track.

“We look at the car in two pieces, right? So there is the body itself, chassis/body, and then you have the engine. The engine most likely would be a 2022 piece, so we have to determine to go new body style in 2021 or do you go new body style and engine at the same time in 2022?

“We’re trying to give ourselves some flexibility there, again we’re working with our race teams and their (manufacturers) to make sure that we do this right so we can put the best car on the race track that provides great racing as well as great styling that would have more kind of how the car (continues) to look even more like its showroom counterpart.”

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Hybridization of NASCAR cars not expected by 2021, Toyota executive says

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NASCAR and manufacturers have discussed the hybridization of future cars but one manufacturer executive said it won’t happen soon.

Relative to hybridization and electrification, quite simply, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how and when,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A hybrid type of strategy is absolutely something that we’re looking at.

“Candidly, it won’t be something that we see as early as ’21. That’s, realistically, a little further down the road.”

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said May 20 on the Dale Jr. Download that a key to the Gen 7 car — expected to debut in 2021 — would be to “make room for what might happen next. Not in the short-term, but if the automobile industry and the racing industry go down the road with some type of electrification, the chassis should have room for that. In the motor component, whatever evolution we go to in the next generation of power plants for the cars … we have the opportunity with a clean sheet of paper to build a chassis that can accommodate that easily without having to tear a car apart.”

Brad Keselowski wrote an essay last May titled: It’s time: The NASCAR hybrid. Keselowski wrote: “Not only am I sure that hybrids are the future of NASCAR — I believe it’s essential to the success of the sport that we embrace hybrid technology as soon as possible.”

Hybrids have become more important for manufacturers, Wilson said on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday.

“You look across the motorsports landscape, you’re seeing hybridization and electrification everywhere you look,” he said. “That again is simply a reflection of the automotive culture on a global basis. Today, Toyota has eight different hybrid vehicles in their lineup.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, also was on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday and expressed the value of the Gen 7 car being able to incorporate hybrid elements in the future.

“I think Gen 7 gives an opportunity to bring more relevant elements of the car and the technology to what we’re selling in the showroom or what we’ll be selling more of in the future,” Campbell said. “Along with that is the ability of if we do that have an opportunity to attract more (manufacturers). So it all does really fit together. There’s still much work going on with the Gen 7.

“In terms of hybrid, I will tell you that every series we’re involved in, every single series Chevy is involved in … is looking at what is the opportunity to package protect or what are the options to include some element of hybridization. That’s really where it is right now. It’s in a discussion phrase. It hasn’t been locked down.”

In regards to hybridization coming to NASCAR, Wilson said on SiriusXM: “It is an inevitability from our perspective.”

Before the season, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said of hybrids: “As we change road cars, we’re not going directly from an internal combustion engine to electric. We’ll have hybrids along the way. I don’t know NASCAR needs to go full electric.

“Even if you continue racing the internal combustion engine, we get a ton of benefit from that and connection with the fans. The ability to put the hybrid in when the time is ready, that’ll continue to connect as fans’ cars and trucks go hybrid.”