Chevrolet has a Kentucky problem. It’s not because of lagging sales (they aren’t, General Motors leads all manufacturers in sales) or the sinkhole at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green (a great tour if you’re in the area).
It’s not about whether the Toyota Tundras might be better than Chevrolet Silverados. And, because of the model regulations changing in NASCAR, the Camaro and Camry don’t compete on sales floors across the country.
Chevy, and its Cup Series teams, is winless in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway.
Given the talent across teams that run the Camaro, the manufacturer couldn’t pinpoint one specific reason for the lack of Cup Series wins. After all, Chevy has won five championships in the seven years the MENCS has run at Kentucky Speedway.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said he has his own demons in the hills of Sparta, Kentucky.
“I’m not sure why other Chevy guys have struggled, I know for myself it has just been a hard track for me to figure out,” Johnson said. “It haunted me in my Busch career. I did run a lot of laps there kind of developing as a Hendrick driver, we tested there a lot. I have a ton of laps, but I’ve never really been great there.”
Johnson and his peers all point to the unique and challenging design of the track. While plenty of drivers have success at 1.5-mile tracks, there’s no other track on the schedule that presents the same challenge as Kentucky.
“it’s just a really weird place because going into turn one you are climbing up a hill and then quickly descend from the entry to turn one all the way down until you actually turn into turn three, or the elevation is going downhill and in turn three you don’t pick up the banking until probably the midway point of the corner,” Johnson said. “So, from entry to turn one to the middle of turns three and four, there is nothing to lean on and the cars are just hanging on very nervous and edgy and then you get a small portion of time with some grip off of turn four and then you are down the front straightaway.”
Chevy’s Kentucky problem might not be its machines as much as the drivers piloting its competitors. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski own five wins at Kentucky. Keselowski has the distinction of winning in both a Ford and a Dodge – Toyota has four MENCS wins to Ford’s two and Dodge’s one.
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The closest Johnson came to winning at Kentucky was in 2013 where he said he squandered a restart and lost his chance.
As a manufacturer, Chevy drivers have a pair of pole-position starts, 13 top-five finishes and 30 top-10 finishes. The drivers behind the bowties also have led 367 laps at Kentucky in MENCS competition, which is nearly 20 percent of all laps run.
Busch, a two-time Cup Series winner at Kentucky, said a lot of different elements go into being successful in the Bluegrass State.
“Being good here, you’ve got to understand the track and the challenges,” Busch said. “I won an ARCA race here and I’ve won a few Xfinity Series races here, probably should’ve won a few more Xfinity Series races, had … stupid things happen that took us out of the running. We’ve won our fair share of Cup Series races here too.”
So, will it change this weekend? In the first two practices, Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet, and Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet, both posted good numbers. Larson led the first session and Dillon was fifth-quickest in the second.
If Chevrolet is going to change its fortune at Kentucky this week, it’ll likely need a surprise performance from one of its drivers or a mistake from Busch, Keselowski or Martin Truex Jr.