Long: Chevrolet victory went just as planned at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Ala. — A fan arrived to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend carrying flowers to his seat, looking for the woman he has dated online but never met in person.
In much the same way, Chevrolet teams came to NASCAR’s longest and most ferocious track, agreeing to help each other in ways they’ve never done amid questions to if they could actually do it.
The fan, Omar, was to meet his date, Amber, at the track. At last report, he had yet to find her.
But Chevrolet teams made an instant connection Sunday, fortifying the bottom lane and outmaneuvering Fords and Toyotas for a 1-2-3 finish led by Chase Elliott’s fan-pleasing, drink-raising victory at a track his Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott reigns as the fastest man. Chevrolet, which scored its first win of the season, had five of the top six finishers.
“Every Chevy driver was all in on it and all in on trying to get a Bowtie to win,” runner-up Alex Bowman said.
They had little choice.
Hendrick Motorsports’ decision to work with Toyotas instead of fellow Chevrolet teams in the Daytona 500 put this weekend’s plan in motion.
“That’s kind of what pushed us to be a little bit more firm I’d say with the teams,” said Pat Suhy, Chevrolet Manager of NASCAR Competition Group.
Chevy executives met with drivers, crew chiefs, technical directors and directors of competition Saturday, then met with crew chiefs and team executives afterward to formulate the race plan. Sunday morning, Chevy executives met with crew chiefs and spotters to finalize the plans and make sure all were onboard.
The message was clear.
“Look, we all know you know that there is power in numbers and we know that you’d like to be able to pick your dance partners,” Suhy said Chevy officials told teams. “We’re going to ask you — maybe some would say we told them — very firmly to work together as a group of Chevys and see how that works out.”
“We all have egos and we all think we’re a tick better than the guy we’re sitting next to, but we were all able to put that aside and focus on the betterment of our manufacturer,” fifth-place finisher Daniel Hemric said.
The Chevrolets worked together throughout the race. Bowman’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, even referred to fellow Chevy cars as “friendlies” throughout the race. Chevrolet drivers pitted together under green and often ran the bottom lane together. The cohesion among the Chevy camp impressed those who tried to beat it.
“It’s harder than ever to stay in a line,” said fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, the only non-Chevrolet driver in the top six. “When you’re in line you’re running three-quarter, half throttle, you’re just waiting to go and cars are really tight and packed up. I was surprised to see how much that worked for them.”
There were numerous instances of Chevy drivers helping each other and letting them in line off restarts. Typically in the final laps, the orders go away and everyone understands it’s each driver for themself.
Yet on the final restart with four laps to go, Elliott, starting on the inside of third row, slowed to allow fellow Chevrolet driver Kurt Busch to come down from the top line, hanging his brother, Kyle, out and moving in front of Elliott.
“If it had been a green‑white‑checkered, I don’t think it would have been favorable,” Elliott said. “I think having it be more than three laps, I felt like there was going to be enough steam and momentum up to where the pack was going to be kind of back to normal.
“I felt like there was going to be some power in numbers with it being that many laps to go. That’s what we did. I was really trying to stay with him and trying to stay the course on all that, be the best friend I could be at that point in time. He went to make a move on Joey. Honestly, I couldn’t get up there to push him fast enough. If I did, somebody else behind me probably wasn’t going to do the same. At some point that was going to hurt.
“That’s just kind of the way it goes. You have to realize the shoe could be on the other foot next time. It’s not always going to work out for everybody. I get that. It’s easy for me to say today. That’s just the way it’s going to be at these places.”
Although Kurt Busch fell to sixth, he was “impressed” with how the Chevrolet drivers worked together.
“I feel like Chase did a perfect job to put himself in a good position,” Busch said. “I feel like I just gave the win away. I had a run and didn’t change lanes quick enough and got bottled up. Chase was a perfect wingman and in a great spot. I’m happy that Chase got the win today.
“I’m really disappointed that I didn’t close the deal. It was in my hands and I let it fall through.”
For a time this weekend at least, a fan holding flowers waiting for his date, could understand Busch’s feelings.