NASCAR & Auto Racing

Chevy’s NASCAR problems keep getting worse. Can anyone reverse the troubling trend?

Jimmie Johnson is fast in the car and on foot

NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson completed his first marathon with an impressive time of just over 3 hours.
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NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson completed his first marathon with an impressive time of just over 3 hours.

Chevrolet fans, avert your eyes.

Things have gotten real ugly, real fast.

Chevy’s problems in NASCAR this season (and last season, and the season before that...) have been well-documented. The past two seasons, the once-mighty manufacturer has failed to send a single driver into the Cup Series championship race. Ford and Toyota have continued one-upping each other in the meantime, see-sawing back and forth up the points standings. Chevy, however, has been stuck on the bottom of a very lonely teeter-totter.

And that troubling trend has only gotten worse this season. A quarter of the way through the year, nine races deep, and only two Chevy drivers are in the Top 10 of the points standings: Kurt Busch (seventh) and Chase Elliott (10th). That means no one in the Top 5, and a heck of a lot of people in the bottom third.

Of the bottom 14 to start every Cup race, nine are Chevy drivers.

So, not great.

A big part of that issue is underwhelming seasons from a number of Chevy’s top drivers. Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson won the manufacturer’s last title in 2016, but he has been on a downswing ever since. Last season was his first full-time campaign without a win ever. And this year, instead of bouncing back into title contention with a new sponsor and crew chief, he’s clinging to 13th place.

Elliott’s breakout 2018 campaign seemed to position him on the precipice of greatness... and he too has struggled to put together consistent runs. He’s the best of Hendrick Motorsports right now, but at 10th overall, that doesn’t exactly scream success. Meanwhile, Alex Bowman and William Byron are slotted in at 20th and 21st overall, outside the playoff bubble by a considerable margin.

But the biggest early-season disappointment for Chevy, easily, has to be Kyle Larson.

In 2017, Larson was one of NASCAR’s hotter drivers, with a random blown engine in the playoffs as the only thing that kept him from a championship run. Last season, he finished second more times than almost any driver, but could never quite get back to Victory Lane. Instead of trending back toward his 2017 form, Larson has been the picture of Chevy’s spiraling this season.

That said, Larson also is one of Chevy’s best opportunities to rebound the latter half of 2019. Kurt Busch, Larson’s teammate, has been the best, most consistent Chevy all year, and he came up just short of a win at Bristol a few races back. If Busch’s group at Chip Ganassi Racing is capable of that, shouldn’t Larson’s be able to later on? Easier said than done obviously, but there’s something to work off.

Other than Larson, Chevy’s best odds for rebounding this season likely lie with the same man they did a year ago: Elliott.

Elliott’s three wins later in the 2018 season propelled him to the brink of the championship four. He came this close to stealing one of those final spots, and had he gotten hot just a few weeks earlier, might have had the requisite playoff points to do so. That’s all a hypothetical, of course, but Elliott is Hendrick’s — and consequentially, Chevy’s — best hope of climbing back into contention.

That’s if anyone can do it, that is. Because right now, things couldn’t look much worse for Chevy’s championship hopes.

This week’s NASCAR race at Talladega: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500.

Distance: 188 laps, or 500 miles.

Where: Talladega Superspeedway, a 2.66-mile asphalt tri-oval in Lincoln, Alabama.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

TV: FOX.

Radio: MRN.

Last year’s winner: Joey Logano.

Also this week: MoneyLion 300, Xfinity Series, Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m., Saturday, FS1.

Worth mentioning: This win was Logano’s lone regular season victory last season.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Martin Truex Jr.: Even a one-week break for Easter doesn’t slow the momentum of Truex’s first win as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Joey Logano: He’s been inconsistent, but as he proved at Richmond, is also a threat to win any race he has the right car.

NOT

Kyle Larson: What happened here? Larson was expected to compete for a championship this season, but instead has spiraled to 19th in thestandings and out of the playoffs.

William Byron: He’s improving, but not as quickly as might have been expected from last season’s Rookie of the Year. He’s 20th in the standings.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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