New Camaro is source of optimism for Chevrolet teams

DAYTONA, FL - FEBRUARY 14: Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Monster Energy (1) during practice for the 62nd annual Daytona 500 on February 14, 2020 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After a less-than-stellar rollout of last year’s NASCAR Cup Series Camaros, Chevrolet teams are optimistic that changes to the car will result in improved performance in 2020.

So far, the results seem to bear that out. Chevrolet driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of JTG Daugherty Racing won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports grabbed the other locked-in position on the outside of the front row.

In Thursday night’s second Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying race, Hendrick’s William Byron visited Victory Lane for the first time in NASCAR’s top series, leading a 1-2-3 sweep by Chevrolets.

“I feel like, last year, Chevy came—they just missed the ball,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who fields the No. 43 Camaros driven by Bubba Wallace. “This year, they corrected a lot of those mistakes. We hope that they corrected it enough that we’re going to be competitive wherever we go.

“Right now, I think Chevrolet’s probably got the best overall program… I think they’re totally, totally committed to racing. We want to be right along in there with somebody that’s as dedicated to racing as we are.”

Saturday’s Chevrolet owners press conference in the Daytona International Speedway media center covered a broad range of topics, with the following highlights:

·        Rick Hendrick expressed his commitment to making seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series as successful as possible. “Jimmie is fired up,” Hendrick said. “I think they’re going to have a really good year with the new car… I’ve never seen Jimmie so energized. We going to give him everything we’ve got, leave nothing on the table.”

·        The new Chevrolet engine block and headers are ready to go. “It’s done,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president for performance vehicles and motorsports. “It’s rotated when it’s ready. Typically, on the engine side, we do that when the pool of current engines is at the point where you can rotate them out.”

·        Chip Ganassi was predictably close-mouthed about the prospects of re-signing driver Kyle Larson, who is in the final year of his current contract. Larson has expressed interest in listening to offers from other owners. “I think it’s always important to keep good people around, whether it’s a driver, crew chief, engineer, whatever,” said Ganassi, who didn’t elaborate. But as that question was asked, Hendrick reached for his wallet and eyed Ganassi with a knowing look.

·        Richard Childress is happy with his 2020 NASCAR Cup Series driver lineup, with two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick having moved up to the premier series.

·        “We feel good about it,” Childress said. “We moved Tyler up. He earned the right to move up. Excited about having him. He and Austin (Dillon) are going to make good teammates, work together so far as everything I’ve seen.”

Greg Engle