NASCAR Cup Series: Chevrolet’s best race of 2019 still not enough to win

Despite leading 115 of 334 laps, Chevrolet drivers still couldn’t produce their first win of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Even the best efforts don’t seem to be enough these days for Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series. The manufacturer’s driers led over one-third of the 334 laps in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson led the race’s first 60 laps after starting from the pole position, but once he lost the lead, he never gained it back. He actually overperformed in the final stage to finish in fifth place.

But Johnson falling out of the front was okay because teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron inherited the lead and combined to lead 50 laps. Elliott looked the strongest with a total of 35 laps led in the middle of the race, but he too fell toward the middle of the pack and did not regain the lead. He settled for a 13th place finish. Byron finished in sixth with 15 laps led.

Elsewhere in the Chevrolet camp, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch never led a lap, but he made you quickly forget about his 30th place starting position  by hanging in the top six seemingly all day before finishing in ninth. Even Austin Dillon of the struggling Richard Childress Racing had a very good race, only to shuffle back to 14th by the end.

It wasn’t all promising for Chevrolet, of course, as Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman and Richard Childress Racing rookie Daniel Hemric had woeful rides and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson crashed before the halfway point of the race.

But just looking at the top five Chevrolet drivers, this was a race that they could have won. It was the first non-restrictor plate race in a while that would make anyone believe, for a sizable chunk of the race, that multiple Chevrolet drivers had a chance of winning.

But like most races in Chevrolet’s futility streak, the Fords and Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas eventually rose to the top. The race was Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney’s to lose until his engine overheated.

When the checkered flag waved, all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers occupied the top eight, with Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez finishing in second and third place, respectively, behind race winner Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing and Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick finishing in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

In addition, Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman had a better car than several Chevrolet drivers did toward the end of the race.

Now that the race is over, there are more questions than answers concerning Chevrolet. Has the bow tie brand finally found winning speed across their top three teams? Is consistency throughout a race all they lack, or was today’s success a product of a track that didn’t wear out tires and poor starting positions by several top Ford drivers? Once Blaney, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Hamlin started leading the race, there was hardly any more talk about Chevrolet.

Chevrolet teams, specifically Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, are improving. Their short run speed was clearly better in this race than in previous races. They dominated the first one-third of the race and a few drivers were factors all race long.

But it doesn’t seem like the Chevrolet teams are good enough yet to do anything more than lead a chunk of a long race on a 1.5-mile track. Maybe they’ll expand on the improvements made for Texas Motor Speedway and bring a batch of consistently fast cars to Talladega Superspeedway in under four weeks.

 

 

This upcoming weekend, NASCAR is scheduled to head to one of the true wild card tracks on the schedule, Bristol Motor Speedway, for the Food City 500. A win at this track for Chevrolet wouldn’t be the best indicator of their teams finding winning speed since anything can happen and speed can be negated there.

I am not saying that a win at Bristol Motor Speedway wouldn’t be huge for Chevrolet, but Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway are the tracks where Chevrolet teams can prove that they are fast enough to have multiple drivers contending for race victories and possibly even the 2019 Cup Series championship.