A new era in Chevrolet motorsports starts today with the introduction of the Camaro ZL1 as the new race car for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The roaring engine echoed through downtown Detroit on Thursday as Jimmie Johnson drove Chevrolet’s up-to-that-point secret entry in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The noise offered no clue as to what kind of car it was, and only a few of the powers-that-be in attendance knew for sure. Fewer still had actually set eyes on the car. The heads of seemingly every Chevy driver and team owner who gathered for the unveiling craned around as Johnson drove down Jefferson Avenue before pulling the Camaro ZL1 to a stop in front of the Renaissance Center, General Motors world headquarters.
So there it was: A Camaro, back in NASCAR’s top series after a 40-year hiatus. The unveiling of Chevy’s mark in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was a closely guarded secret … by NASCAR standards, at least. Most drivers interviewed afterward said they had only an inkling that the new car would be a Camaro, and even that was at least in part by process of elimination based on what offerings Chevrolet has, considering it will no longer make the SS, the current Chevy Monster Energy Series car.
“I had crew guys asking me even yesterday what car it was,” said A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing.
All car unveilings are big deals. This one carried extra weight, as the Camaro has a deep history, both in racing and in automotive history in general. The Camaro ZL1 will replace the Chevrolet SS in NASCAR’s top series. The Camaro SS has been Chevy’s NASCAR XFINITY Series car since 2013. The Chevrolet SS has scored 71 Monster Energy Series wins and contributed to Chevrolet’s 39 NASCAR manufacturer titles.
Even the few drivers who admitted they knew it would be a Camaro had not seen it. In fact, none of the drivers had seen it before Johnson skidded to a stop and parked the racecar next to a street version of the Camaro ZL1, which will be used as the pace car this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
After the announcement, as drivers and industry officials mingled with reporters, wandering eyes kept dancing over the racecar’s nose, and then to nose of the car parked next to it, and then back. Some of those looks were PG-13, if not R-rated.
The most notable thing about the two cars is how similar the noses are. “There’s no difference,” said Ty Dillon, driver of the No. 13 for Germain Racing, whose grandfather, Richard Childress, raced a Camaro in NASCAR’s top series in the late 1960s. “It looks fast, so that’s a good start.”
But nobody connected with GM will be satisfied if it only looks fast. It has to be fast. The consensus among drivers is the most important improvement they’d like to see from the Camaro relative to the SS is better downforce.
Whether the Camaro ZL1 can achieve that won’t be known at the very least until the car is tested, which is likely to happen this fall. There was a lot of talk on Thursday about the Chevy teams needing to cooperate to add even more manufacturer championships to its impressive lot, and surely they will, at least until the racing starts with the season opening Daytona 500.
“I hope I’m the guy who gets it into victory lane first,” Johnson said after he climbed out of the car. “I know there are people who have differing opinions about that.”
Indeed, every other driver in attendance had a differing opinion about that.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!