Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. — just call them “The Big Three” — have won 14 of 19 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup races this year. All three have won Cups and are at least 33 years old, which sidetracks NASCAR’s “Young Guns” marketing push.
Well, good for “The Big Three.” Each is an excellent driver in top-caliber equipment. Each of “The Big Three” has at least 13 top-five finishes this year, and no other driver has more than six. But here is the twist: None of “The Big Three” is driving a Chevrolet.
You remember Chevrolet. The “bowtie” was the scourge of NASCAR. Between 2005 and last year, Chevy drivers won 10 Cups, seven by Jimmie Johnson alone. Between 2003 and last year, Chevy won 10 manufacturers’ championships, compared with two for everyone else.
Not to be negative or anything, but Chevrolet has won one race this year — the first race of the year, when Austin Dillon captured the Daytona 500, an anything-can-happen restrictor-plate race. It was a wonderful way for Chevy to unveil its new Camaro ZL1 race car, but the winning stopped there. Five months later, Chevy is still looking for its second victory.
Dillon is the only Chevy driver with one of 16 spots assured in the playoffs, for which there are only seven races remaining to qualify. There are four Chevy drivers among the top 16 in points, but Kyle Larson, at No. 8, is the highest Chevy driver.
Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman — three drivers for Hendrick Motorsports, the perennial Chevy powerhouse — are now holding down playoff spots, but they are 12th, 14th and 15th respectively, so one or more could be knocked out if a lower-ranked driver wins a race.
Well, about time! Ford fans might say. Coming into the season, Chevy drivers had won 118 Cup races more than Ford drivers. Ford’s last title came in 2004, when Kurt Busch won the championship in the first year of what was then called the Chase.
Back in the good old days, NASCAR would tweak the rules if one manufacturer got too far ahead of another, or the others. The leaders would grumble, but the idea was that parity was good for all the manufacturers, who could tout a tough Cup victory Sunday to sell cars Monday.
Chevrolet has no trouble selling lots of passenger cars. But its Camaro ZL1 showpiece is clearly off the pace. The four Hendrick drivers, who include the rookie William Byron, have seven top-five finishes combined, four of them from Elliott.
The top two rookies in the series, Byron and Bubba Wallace, are also in Chevrolets, and they are 22nd and 25th in the points standings. Wallace was second to Dillon at Daytona in an historic finish, but it has been his only top-five finish this season.
“They’ve gained on it, on aerodynamics and downforce, but you would’ve hoped they’d started in a better position. So, you can see all the Chevy teams struggling across the board,” Dale Earnhardt Jr., the former Chevrolet driver who is now a commentator for NBC, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “They’re picking it up a little bit at a time, but I don’t know if they’ll ever get where they want to be this year. With that said, there’s also a lot that the other teams are doing better. It’s not stuff that is visual to the naked eye.”
Wait. Earnhardt said, “I don’t know if they’ll ever get where they want to be this year.” That does not sound like good news for a series that is trying to hold onto fans and viewers. It does not do much good if one-third of the field is off the pace. But maybe it is.
It appears as if the Cup champion this year will drive either a Toyota (Busch or Truex) or a Ford (Harvick or maybe one of Roger Penske’s three drivers). Chevrolet will surely find its way, eventually, possibly even this year. Chevy fans won’t like this, but enjoy the ride.