Chevrolet teams make plans to work together at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Ala. — It was a sight not seen before. At least in the Chevrolet camp.
About 10 Chevrolet cars ran together in Friday’s final Cup practice at Talladega Superspeedway, a sign that Chevrolet wants its teams to work more closely together after some partnered with Toyotas during the Daytona 500.
To reaffirm the message, Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, met with Chevrolet drivers Saturday.
“The benefit of working together is too great versus the penalty of not working together,” Campbell told NBC Sports.
“We have to work together as a team but also be adaptive. That’s what we’re trying to balance.”
Talladega pole-sitter Austin Dillon said “we’re just unified as a group now.”
While Chevrolet teams work on projects together off the track, they haven’t always been so cooperative on the track, whether it was because of philosophy or disparity in performance. That contributed to Chevrolet’s decline at Daytona and Talladega — the manufacturer has won one of the last 15 races at those tracks.
Toyota originated the strategy of cars within the same manufacturer working together and dominated the 2016 Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin won, leading a 1-2-3 Toyota finish. Fords began working together and dominated last year’s playoff race at Talladega — its seventh consecutive at NASCAR’s longest track. Aric Almirola won and Ford cars led nearly 95% of the race.
To combat Ford’s strength, Toyota and the Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports worked together in the Daytona 500. During the second stage, a six-car train of Toyotas and Hendrick cars controlled the pace. Crashes later in the race lessened the maneuver’s effectiveness but a strategy against the Fords had been created.
That particular pairing of Chevrolet and Toyota teams, though, will not be repeated.
“I think some of the other Chevys probably griped about the Hendrick guys working with us,” Hamlin said.
There have been multiple meetings about Chevrolet teams about working together since February.
“They’re laying the law down,” Bubba Wallace told NBC Sports.
The result was 10 Chevrolets went on track together Friday in practice. They ran about 15 laps, came to pit road together and exited together to simulate a green-flag pit stop.
That could be critical Sunday. Teams have found this weekend that the more cars in a line, the faster it goes. Last fall, Stewart-Haas Racing’s four cars ran single-file and pulled away from the pack. That’s not expected to happen Sunday with rule changes that include teams having another 100 horsepower to 550 and the larger rear spoiler (with the wicker added to the spoiler Friday).
“At tracks like this, numbers win,” Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports. “So the more organized we can be, and if we can ever get more quality cars, more quality Chevrolets working together, we can hopefully have that upper hand in those rare situations of pitting under green.”
When Almirola saw the Chevrolets run together in practice Friday, he said “it’s about time.
“What’s that old saying … fool me once, shame on you,. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, that’s not going to happen. They’ve been fooled a lot of times by the manufactures teaming up and working together.
“To see that, it speaks volumes of what we did at Ford years ago to organize our race teams to get together and make sure that we work together to put a blue oval out front and that’s what this kind of racing has turned into. I think they’ve finally taken notice.”
Kyle Larson said everything has gone well with the teams working together so far.
“We’ve been pretty disciplined about it,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes in the race. Hopefully we can do what those other teams have done, but even better. I’m excited to work together and hopefully we’ll learn throughout it and tweak on it in the future and get even better.”
That’s a challenge Dillon noted. Toyota and Ford teams know how to work together during the race. This will be Chevrolet’s first attempt at going all in.
“These guys have been working at it for a couple of races now, and they’ve kind of done a good job of perfecting how to get to the front and work together,” Dillon said. “We’ve got a young group of Chevy drivers, a little less experience. We, as a group, I feel like have done a good job over the weekend.”
If Chevrolet cars do work together Sunday, it could impact the Toyota teams. Toyota has the fewest cars in the 39-car field with seven — that includes two part-time teams.
“I knew it was coming,” Hamlin said of losing the partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. “I’m friends with a couple of (Chevrolet drivers), so I knew about meetings that have been going on for the last month or so. I knew that we were going to kind of be on our own.”
But this edict by Chevrolet doesn’t mean a Chevy driver can’t work with another manufacturer during the race. It will happen. The pack will get jumbled. But the point is to work together when one can.
“Chevy is a huge part of our success,” Daniel Hemric told NBC Sports. “Whether we have it or not, they’ve given us all a route to have it. At the end of the day, one of us needs to be in victory lane. That’s why we’ve got to come together to make that happen.”
If they can’t Sunday, it will mark the first time since 1971 that Chevrolet has not won in the first 10 races of a season.
“The focus is on winning,” Campbell told NBC Sports. “Also, we want to see as many Chevys finish well with the stage points and at the end of the race. It’s a long season. Our goal is to get as many Chevy drivers in the playoffs, whether it is through wins or points or both.
“Cleary, the goal is to get some wins on the board. The one benefit of having our key partners is we continue to learn from one another how to gain more speed and improve the performance.”