BROOKLYN, Mich. — Chevrolet introduced a new NASCAR Cup body for 2018, and it looked pretty slick — with the manufacturer set to field the Camaro.
But it’s about more than looks. It comes down to numbers, both on and off the track.
Off the track, the passenger Chevrolet SS (the previous body) sold 3,013 cars. The Camaro sold 72,705. The new Chevrolet has interest from car buyers, but there’s a bigger question: Will the numbers in the wind tunnel and the results on the racetrack improve?
“I’m excited about it being a Camaro because selfishly I’m a car salesman, and I’ve got a lot of them in the lot,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “It’s one of the most popular cars in the brand. It’s a good-looking race car.”
The change should give Chevrolet a little more “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” attitude, though General Motors executive vice president Mark Reuss has said, especially when NASCAR was running the SS, the primary goal was getting fans think of Chevrolet when wanting to buy a new car.
“At that point in time, this company had a real deficit in brand, just from all the things that had happened,” Reuss said Thursday. “The SS was great for the Chevrolet brand.”
The transition in 2018 will try to relate NASCAR to one of Chevrolet’s top sports cars.
“We’ve got a great heritage with Camaro,” he said. “We’ve built the Camaro brand and the Chevrolet brand around performance.”
That’s the key for the Chevrolet NASCAR teams: performance.
Chevrolet teams, except for Chip Ganassi Racing, generally have not performed as well as they had in previous years. They look at their rival Fords and Toyotas having introduced new body styles since the “Gen-6” car in 2013. Toyota even changed its body style this year to the 2018 Camry, which was legal because the car is being sold now.
Because the SS is going out of production, Chevrolet had to change its model. So this was the best opportunity for the teams to examine whether the new body style can be aerodynamically sound.
“If you just think about it — Toyota has had three shots at it [and] we’ve had one,” Hendrick said. “If you had a chance to do a car again and again, you’d make it a little bit better. I think Ford has had a couple [versions].”
The teams have not been able to test the car on the track. NASCAR has conducted a wind tunnel test with representatives of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota present so they could be comfortable with the numbers and that no manufacturer will have a considerable advantage.
The nose of the car is the biggest departure, with a some new style and shaping.
“There’s a chance to refine the vehicle,” said seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “We definitely have high expectations for the car and a faster vehicle than what we’re racing right now.”
That isn’t just a little whining. At Michigan International Speedway, only three Chevrolets will start in the top 15. Johnson will start 22nd.
Austin Dillon was the only one of the three Richard Childress Racing drivers even to make it into the second round of qualifying.
“I think 100 percent it’s going to help us,” Dillon said. “We’re racing against everybody else’s cars that are years ahead of what we’ve been racing.
“We’re on the back side of this SS. The Camaro, with the new build, it should take us to being able to at least keep up. It’s been a little bit of a struggle to keep up with the other [manufacturers], and it will put us where we need to be or ahead of them.”
It is a constant challenge for NASCAR to allow for brand identity but still have enough of the car in common that it doesn’t need a separate tech bay for each manufacturer.
Manufacturers have the most freedom in the front end of the car, as well as some of the body paneling. The area in the middle of the car is more standard, as are the hoods and deck lids.
“There for a while, all the cars did look the same,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “And they kind of were the same. The COT [before the Gen-6], you couldn’t tell one from the other or who was driving what. It’s gotten better.
“NASCAR has to have a level playing field as far as aero. But at the same time, you want the cars to look different. But when you really get too different from each other, the aero changes quite a bit. So you’ve got to be careful.”
Earnhardt said NASCAR is going in a good direction. He likes the way the new Camaro looks.
“As far as allowing the cars to have a little brand identity on the front and different things on the side and so forth. It’s gotten better than it used to be,” he said. “I mean it’s not 1970, but it’s getting better.”