On paper, NASCAR has three manufacturers: Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet. It’s a three-way distinction designed to increase competition across the board, pushing each company to donate its dollars in the name of winning races and championships. More irons in the fire, so to speak, is supposed to increase competition, produce brand awareness for each make and create a healthy sport to follow each week. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, right?
Well, sort of. Turns out that slogan, at least to start 2015, works out for only one.
22 Chevrolets started the race at Phoenix Sunday, more than the Ford and Toyota camps combined. They swept the top-five spots, including winner Kevin Harvick, while asserting their dominance atop the Sprint Cup Series. Since Joey Logano’s Daytona 500 victory for Ford, the Bowtie Brigade have won three straight races. This season, it’s won three of four poles and occupy seven of the top-10 spots in the standings. But perhaps the most notable statistic so far is laps led by manufacturer, revealing how little Ford and Toyota have been able to trudge their way to the front:
Chevrolet – 805
Ford – 266
Toyota – 36
Chevy sitting on top is nothing new; after all, it’s won every Cup Series manufacturers’ title since 2003. But this level of dominance is unusual. Harvick, along with Hendrick Motorsports, appears to be a large step ahead with the new rules. Next in line is Richard Childress Racing, bringing six cars to the table with both its main team and satellite programs. It’s an eleven-car onslaught that’s difficult to unseat, equal to the entire individual fleets of Ford and Toyota, respectively.
What does this tilt mean for the sport? Clearly, there’s strength in numbers. The Hendrick program is equivalent to 10 cars sharing information: Four-car HMS, the four cars at Stewart-Haas Racing and a two-car engine and information alliance with Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s an incredible amount of teamwork and support, unequaled across the garage. Ford, whose fleet is led by two-car Team Penske, has yet to achieve the same type of network. Ditto for Toyota, whose Joe Gibbs Racing program came under scrutiny this offseason for not working closer with other teams.
How can Ford and Toyota get back in the game? It’s still early, of course, and the new Chase gives plenty of opportunities to unseat top seeds. (Just ask all of HMS). Still, it seems like they’re destined to play second fiddle at this point unless they can get more teams on their sides. Both groups are bogged down by smaller programs (Front Row Motorsports, BK Racing, etc.) that can only bring so much money and information to the table. That creates a pyramid system where all teams exist in a hierarchy. Example: Team Penske’s clearly the top Ford effort right now, then Roush Fenway Racing, then Richard Petty Motorsports, FRM and two single-car programs. Rare is the time one group finishes higher than the other. Toyota, it’s much the same way: JGR, Michael Waltrip Racing and then BKR.
Chevy doesn’t have that problem, with its 10 HMS-supported teams pretty much standing on level ground. It was an SHR driver, Harvick, running Hendrick chassis and engines, who won the championship last year. Jamie McMurray of Ganassi was Harvick’s stiffest challenge Sunday, not a car from the HMS shop. The true teamwork attitude gives each of the ten cars a chance to win instead of creating a Formula 1-style royalty program. Heck, even at RCR we see the same phenomenon; single-car satellite programs have outgunned the three-car “home base” so far this season.
What you get, then, is a stable environment where it’s hard to see new teams and drivers break through. You could see a shakeup, theoretically, if a new manufacturer appears, but there’s no one knocking down NASCAR’s door to compete. Ford and Toyota are destined for second unless they change their bank account – and their teamwork.
Once again, for the 10th time in 12 years this Chase is Chevy’s to lose. But you wonder, the more they inch ahead from the others whether NASCAR begins to lose as a sport.