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Chevy left behind by NASCAR’s best in 2017. Will a new race car change that in 2018?

The 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Cup Series race car, driven by Jimmie Johnson, makes its first public appearance Aug. 10 in Detroit. The car will make its competition debut at Daytona next month.
The 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Cup Series race car, driven by Jimmie Johnson, makes its first public appearance Aug. 10 in Detroit. The car will make its competition debut at Daytona next month. NASCAR / Chevrolet

Chevrolet has the history, the tradition, the statistics ... but right now in NASCAR, it just doesn’t have the best cars.

So while Chevy has won more than twice as many manufacturer’s titles (39) as Ford and Toyota combined (17), it still came up short in 2017. Seven Chevy drivers made the Cup Series playoffs, but none made the season finale at Homestead, not to mention actually winning the championship.

Instead, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott, two of Chevy’s more prominent drivers, were both eliminated the round before. And as for Chevy’s top driver last season, Kyle Larson, he was inexplicably eliminated in just the second round of the playoffs when his engine blew. So... not a good end to 2017 for Chevy.

That said, there is still a point of optimism for 2018 – the new Chevy Camaro. Even in equipment that couldn’t compete purely speedwise with the best Toyotas, Chevy sent seven drivers to the playoffs. Now with a new race car, there’s a hope that those seven berths might actually translate into a Homestead showing – or a championship.

Now, it’s not like Johnson, Elliott, and Larson are going to just hop into their new cars and start winning straight away. That would be nice for their fans, but it isn’t realistic. Rather, as was the case for the new Toyota cars this season, it’ll likely take drivers a few months to adjust to the updated equipment.

And that’s all right. Again, look at the Toyota model from last season as a base.

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Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson drives the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car up Jefferson Avenue in front of the General Motors Renaissance Center Global Headquarters in Detroit in August. Jose Juarez NASCAR / Chevrolet

Toyota didn’t necessarily struggle out of the gate, as Martin Truex Jr. still managed to win in the third race of the year, but it wasn’t until much later that he became almost unstoppable. After honest competition for the first half of the season, the summer of 2017 was a tipping point for Truex (and Toyota). From there, it was them against everyone else, rather than a level field racing it out. Of course, that ended with eight wins in the last 10 races of the year, including Homestead.

All of which is to say, this isn’t a never-before-seen model. Give Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, time to adjust to a new, faster car – and then get out of the way. Let Elliott and Larson, two of the sport’s best up-and-comers, feel out their new rides before the playoff push begins.

And then, just like Toyota did in 2017, peak at the end of the year. If at least one of these Chevy drivers can do that, NASCAR’s most storied manufacturer doesn’t figure to be shut out of Homestead for long.

Following an unveiling ceremony for the car he will race in Kansas City, KS on Saturday, May 7th, 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped behind the wheel of his Axalta/CARSTAR Chevrolet SS and cruised a few streets in Charl

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

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