Chevrolet introduced the muscle-bound Camaro ZL1 as its NASCAR Cup brand at the outset of the 2018 season, and the dang thing won the pole position for the Daytona 500 and the race itself. Remember Austin Dillon? Then the Camaro was not so muscular, winning three races the rest of the season.
In comparison, Ford won 19 races and the 2018 Cup title, and Toyota 13 races. This year has only been a little better for Chevy. The Camaro has seven Cup victories, but Toyota has 17 and Ford has nine, and Chevyâs two drivers have lots of ground to gain in the eight-car playoffs.
The slide is almost unfathomable. Chevy, the car Dale Earnhardt made so badass, won 13 straight manufacturersâ championships from 2003 to 2015. It is looking as if Chevy wonât have a car in the four-car âchampionshipâ race Nov. 17 â and dang Toyota might have three.
Coupled with Fordâs largely successful introduction to Cup racing this year of its iconic muscle-car brand, the Camaro has been spinning its wheels. Cup cover boy Chase Elliott has six of Camaroâs 11 Cup victories, with no one else having more than one victory.
So Chevy has announced it has replaced the Camaro ZL1 with the â wait for it â Camaro ZL1 1LE for the 2020 Cup season. According to a Chevy news release, the Cup car will be âbased on the fastest, most track-capable production Camaro ever.â
So it sounds as if we have not been seeing Chevyâs best, yet. Behold the ZL1 1LE Cup car. It is more or less just a rebranding. It might work.
âThe ZL1 1LE is the highest performer within the Camaro production-car lineup,â Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevy, said in the news release. âWe took lessons from the production car and applied them to the new 2020 Cup car.â
The NASCAR era for manufacturers to âwin on Sunday, sell on Mondayâ is a thing of the past. The passenger cars on which the Chevy and Ford Cup cars are based are pricey, with the MSRP of the Camaro ZL1 a cool $62,000. There is a $7,500 upgrade to the 1LE.
(Just in case you were car shopping, the current production 1LE is 50 pounds lighter than the standard ZL1 coupe, with lighter wheels and dampers, thinner rear glass and a fixed-back rear seat. It is powered by a 650-horsepower, supercharged LT4 engine.)
Nevertheless, NASCAR is a critical opportunity for manufacturers to market their products â three hours of these handsome cars whirling around a race track on television can certainly be appealing, especially for the brand that wins. Car makers sell other brands.
Team Chevy also competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series; NHRA Funny Car, Pro Stock and Sportsman classes; Michelin Pilot Challenge GS Class, and Pirelli World Challenge GTS division. But NASCAR, even though it does not use true âstockâ cars, looks as if it still does.
So performance is vital. Chevy pointed out in the news release that five of its Cup drivers qualified for the 16-driver playoffs (more than Toyota, which qualified only the four Camrys owned by Joe Gibbs). Five Chevy drivers also qualified for the playoffs last year.
One Chevy driver was knocked out in the first round this year, however, with two more knocked out in the second round. Elliott needed a late-race slip by Brad Keselowski at Kansas to squeeze into the final eight.
Chevy drivers have won a record 31 series championships at NASCARâs top level, including seven each by Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt (who ran in an Olds in four races in 1980), with four more from Jeff Gordon. When Logano won in a Ford last year, it marked the first time that Chevy has gone back-to-back years without a title since 2004.
There is still a chance for Elliott or Kyle Larson to pull out a Cup title, but there is also a good chance that Chevyâs title drought could reach three years in a row. So it might have been the time, at least symbolically, for Chevy to move up to the 1LE package for next year, before the next generation of Cup cars come along.