It had been a tough start to the 2019 season for Team Chevy, going winless in the Cup series’ first nine races.
In fact, the only bright spot in the Cup series since Chevy’s last points-paying win at Kansas last October was Jimmie Johnson’s victory in the preseason Clash exhibition race at Daytona.
The outlook didn’t look much better heading into Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where rival Ford had won the last seven races.
Chase Elliott, however, managed to overcome all the odds, the recent history and the hesitation by Chevy teams to buy into a “manufacturer-first” strategy which had been employed successfully at the superspeedways by Ford and Toyota.
With three of 188 laps remaining, Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman moved into the top two positions and Elliott’s victory was secured when the race was placed under caution for a multi-car wreck on the final lap.
“Congratulations to Chase Elliott, (crew chief) Alan Gustafson and Hendrick Motorsports on today’s win,” Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, said in statement released after Sunday’s race.
“Importantly, I’m really proud of all the Chevrolet drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, spotters, competition directors and team owners on how they worked together to get the best results today.”
That cooperation was no easy task and it required repeated reminders which lasted all the way up to the start of Sunday’s race.
“I think Jim Campbell deserves a lot of credit for stepping up and facilitating it all, drawing the box of guidelines we were going to have to work in. Everybody quickly agreed to that and continued to push forward to support Chevrolet,” Gustafson said after the race.
“We’ve tried this before. It’s really been a pathetic attempt at it. Today was a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of effort by all the Chevy teams.
“We needed to win this. We needed to consolidate our efforts. We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here.”
There we no guarantees the strategy would work – plans in races seem rarely to fall into place. But both Ford and Toyota had managed to have their teams work together to pick up big wins at Daytona and Talladega in recent seasons.
Chevrolet had a built-in advantage – it has more teams than any other in the Cup series. Sunday’s race was simply expanded effort to take advantage of the numbers game.
“Orchestrating it and the communication up front, laying out the plan was the majority of the hard work,” Gustafson said. “The execution today was just, you know, staying calm and sticking to our guns and staying committed to the cause.
“Fortunately, everybody did that and it worked really, really well. The plan went really pretty much how we laid it out. You don’t get those all the time, so we’ll certainly take it.”
In the end, Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports broke into the win column with their effort on Sunday, which is the most important result.
But Sunday’s strategy also seemed to be a hit among other Chevy teams, even if they didn’t make it to Victory Lane themselves.
“For them to step up and say, ‘This is what we want’… we’ve all been looking for that in little ways,” said driver Ty Dillon said of Chevy’s efforts.
“I appreciate Jim Campbell and all the Chevrolet staff leading us as a whole. Hopefully, we can do that more.”
Added fifth-place finisher Daniel Hemric: “We’ve talked about it in the past, but we’ve never had such unity on the race track like we had today. That’s what led to us ultimately having our best finish as a group.
“I’m proud of that and of all the Chevrolet drivers sticking together. The first objective was to make sure a Bowtie ended up in Victory Lane, and that’s what happened.”