Going into the 2018 season, Chevrolet was predicted to dominate with the new Camaro ZL1 body, but 2018 has been anything but dominant for the manufacturer.
Now that we are well into the playoffs and the season is winding down, it seems as if the manufacturer as a whole has gotten its act together and we are seeing results we have been waiting for from these drivers.
Is this the Chevy team that is here to stay? Can the lone Chevrolet team remaining in Chase Elliott capture the title? Will we see this into next season as well, or will we see them struggle once again?
Meanwhile, in the XFINITY Series, the opening race of the second round was a wild one, eliminating favorites on lap one in Kansas. Drivers like Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier did not even get a chance to race because of the incident and their race was over extremely early. Both are considered the championship favorites, but after the melee at Kansas, is that still the case?
If they are not the favorites anymore, who has taken over the reign? Can we see an underdog win the championship?
Q: Are we finally seeing what the Chevy camp is made of this season? Andrew O., Chicago, IL
A: Yes, the recent uptick in performance is a true reflection of the Chevrolet teams and what we have seen throughout the playoffs is what we have been waiting to see all season long from them. I am not just talking about Elliott and the success he has had either.
Hendrick Motorsports has been very very good throughout the playoffs with it’s three playoff drivers: Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Alex Bowman. All three have improved their speed from what it was throughout the first 26 races and all have been competitive. Now, this speed has led Elliott into the Round of 8, and Johnson was one corner away from advancing from the previous round at the ROVAL. Let’s not forget Bowman, who has consistently had top 5-10 cars and has capitalized a few times as a result.
The other two Chevrolet playoff drivers, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, also seemed to have improved on what they were doing earlier this season. Once the playoffs started, Dillon had that speed we have been waiting for all season and he had a good chance to advance had he not sustained his problems at the ROVAL last month. Larson dominated the ROVAL race but he was the one surprising Chevy driver who lost speed in the Round of 12 and struggled. He failed to advance but he showed signs that they have the speed there now at Kansas after finishing third.
It has definitely not been the year the Chevy teams have been looking for, though no race team is ever truly satisfied. Hard work does pay off, though, and you can ask anyone in the Chevy camp. They will say there has been so much hard work put into the new Camaro ZL1 this season.
Having only one driver remaining in the championship hunt is disappointing for the manufacturer. However, that one driver is the hottest driver in the sport right now in Elliott and arguably, after all they have been through this season, could be the championship favorite with only four races remaining.
This is a very good sign, though, if we look ahead to 2019. Even though we will be seeing a much different package and what more than likely will be a much more level playing field, the teams know they are competitive and finally have the speed in their cars.
Whether Elliott wins the championship will remain to be seen for another four weeks, but the manufacturer as a whole has to be feeling good with what they have seen out of their teams the last month or two. 2019 will be a very good year for them, with not just one driver competing for a title late in the playoffs, but several if they continue to improve the way they have.
Q: What do you think of the XFINITY playoff race after the fiasco at Kansas? Different championship favorites or is it just a bump in the road for guys like Allgaier and Custer? Grace L., New Rochelle, NY
A: That race at Kansas this past Saturday changed everything in this playoff race for the XFINITY Series. For the wreck to happen on lap 1 and take out several favorites for the win that day, incluidng championship favorites Allgaier and Bell, it turned out to be a wild day.
With Bell only inside the top four by one point and Allgaier on the outside looking in now, it is going to be super important for the two to have excellent runs at Texas and ISM Raceway to ensure their spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead next month. It is wild to think how much things change though from a month ago until now.
Allgaier has not had the playoff run we expected at all. He does have those five wins on the season, but he only has one top five in the four playoff races and two finishes of 30th or worse. You can not afford those kinds of finishes at this time of year and Allgaier is running into trouble at the worst time of year.
Bell won the opening playoff race at Richmond and the last race of the first round at Dover. I feel pretty good about his chances of advancing to Homestead and still being inside the top four. With the speed he has had throughout the first four races of the playoffs, he should be fine.
My championship favorite is Bell. Allgaier is still up there too but his team needs to get their act together once again and find that success they have had all season long. I am going to throw Daniel Hemric in there too. Hemric has been closer than anyone to winning a race without actually sealing the deal. He has 11 top-three finishes this season but zero wins. He currently holds the points lead, and based on his speed, he can definitely steal this championship.
So then who is the fourth? That is going to be a race until the final lap at ISM Raceway. Elliott Sadler seems to be a good candidate for that right now. Throw in Cole Custer as a driver who can come back and steal a win too. Both drivers have the speed to steal one from the favorites right now and with a perfect race, or just a little bit of luck, they can make it happen.
Under the radar though is Tyler Reddick. Quietly, he sits third right now. He has been inconsistent all year long but he has got going at the right time. He can make it to Homestead if he continues his run of top fives and top 10s along with scoring those all important stage points. His driving style at tracks with worn out surfaces is very similar to Larson, too, so if he makes it to the Championship 4 at Homestead, he might be the one guy flying under the radar that everyone needs to watch out for. We know how dominant Larson is there and Reddick can be equally as dangerous with the right car, which he will have driving for JR Motorsports.
No matter what happens, this is going to be a very exciting final three races of the season. There are so many things that can happen as we saw at Kansas and who’s to say it cannot happen again? That is what makes these playoffs so entertaining. You never know what is going to happen.
It is going to be a great race at Texas as guys look to bounce back from the mess at Kansas. Stay tuned because it is going to be wildly entertaining.