GM Moves Chevrolet Camaro Up To Cup

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickn' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

DETROIT – General Motors is good at keeping secrets and even though its driveway at GM Renaissance Center was lined with Chevrolet Camaros there was still uncertainty about which model it would unveil to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – at least, it was a secret until Jimmie Johnson wheeled around the corner in a new 2018 XL1 track version of the car.

It has been over 40 years since the Camaro raced in NASCAR but beginning with the 2018 season, it will return to the track. The last time a Camaro won in the sport’s top series was in 1971 when Tiny Lund drove to a victory at Hickory Speedway and North Wilkesboro. The manufacturer reintroduced the Camaro SS in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series in 2013 and it has gone to Victory Lane 48 times since then.

Now, Chevrolet believes it is time to move the Camaro up to Cup with a ZL1 model that looks strikingly similar to what they sell on the showroom floor.

“If you look up and down the drive here at our Chevrolet World Headquarters we have the Chevrolet Camaro that runs in the NASCAR Xfinity Series; next to that we have the Camaro GT4, which runs in the IMSA Series – Continental Tires Series in the GS Class; in drag racing we’ve got the Copo Camaro … and we have just an amazing lineup of our production Camaros on the other side. For this, it just kind of fills out one of Camaro’s roles – performance on the street, performance on the track,” said Jim Campbell, vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports.

Not lost on Jimmie Johnson was the ‘coolness factor’ of being the first Team Chevy driver to sit behind the wheel of the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race car as he made a very loud entrance down the closed-off Jefferson Street in downtown Detroit.

“That’s true, it’s a big honor to drive the 2018 Camaro and bring it out and debut it,” Johnson said. “My history with Chevrolet goes back to the start of my professional racing career on four wheels. Huge honor and it is great to see all of my fellow Chevrolet drivers here and I know we are going to have a very good-looking and then a very well-performing car for 2018.”

Asked what went through his mind as he turned the corner for everyone in attendance to see, Johnson joked that he was worried about stalling the engine.

“I hope I don’t stall it, there were a lot of people watching,” he said, with a chuckle. “They wanted me to make a lot of noise, so I erred on the side of a lot of RPM to not stall the thing in front of everybody.”
For weeks, there has been speculation about which model Chevrolet would be unveiling at the announcement.

Internet rumors were rampant that it would be the Malibu, or perhaps the Impala, or maybe some other obscure model. A.J. Allmendinger said he was telling everyone it would be “the Chevy Cruz.” As recently as Wednesday, he said, he had crew guys at the JTG Daugherty shop listing off different models that it might be.

“I think it is really probably the first time to see it,” Allmendinger said. “Chevy has done a good job to, kind of, keep it under wraps but just looking at it for the first time the front end looks awesome. A lot of work has definitely been put into it. You know, to me what is cool is to have the Camaro brand back in NASCAR and if you look at the front of the racecar it looks exactly like what you would be driving on the streets. So, I think that is where the roots of NASCAR have come from and that’s what – especially the older school wants – is to know what’s on the racetrack is basically what they are driving and it looks exactly like it.”

Secrecy is something the car industry is good at said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of GM Global Product Development. He said work on the new model began more than a year ago with figuring out how the base Camaro looked like in the silhouette of NASCAR racecar.

“We knew that we could get it really close because we want to be really authentic in NASCAR with what we do with our street cars and Camaro was, by far, the best fit, rear-wheel drive V-8, 640-hp on the street,” Reuss said. “It’s a coupe, it’s not a sedan made into a coupe. You know, all those things are really important to us at Chevrolet and to be authentic.

“It’s a huge unveil but the secrecy piece of it, we do this for a living and we are really good at it as a company and our partners respected that. They really did.”

The car was built in a secret room inside the shop at Chip Ganassi Racing and only a select few knew what was being worked on.

“Obviously, we had a separate room that we did it in that was accessed by only a few people,” said Chip Ganassi. “So, keeping it a secret wasn’t that hard but it was a great project to be involved in because to be asked by General Motor sand Chevrolet to do that was, kind of, a feather in our cap.”

One person did admit to sneaking a peak but he kept his observation secret – and even then he wasn’t sure which model was going to be unveiled.

“I know that at our shop there was a large curtain around it that said ‘Do Not Enter’ and I did enter,” McMurray said. “And then when you get in behind there, it was actually covered up again. “I did peak. I peaked at the hood because someone had told me that you have to go look at the hood on this car – it’s so unique.”

The look of the car, especially the front end as Allmendinger pointed out, looks almost identical to what race fans are already driving to the track. Now, they will be able to see their car competing on the track and every believes that is good for Chevrolet and good for NASCAR.

“I am thrilled with the way the car looks,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR 14-time Most Popular Driver. “I think people have been anticipating a new model for Chevrolet for a long time. I know that those drivers are excited to get to work on the car, get in the car and get to testing and see what really makes this thing work. It’s got all these guys over here buzzed and excited about next year.”

One Comment

  1. James Alder

    August 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    What color blue is that? Amazingly awesome. It looks like a candy apple blue color.

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