Chevrolet's Dominant Start to NASCAR Season Is Best Since 2001

12 march 2023 during the united rentals 500 at the phoenix raceway in avondale, az hhptim parks
Chevy Off to Best NASCAR Season Start Since 2001HHP/Tim Parks
  • This year, a dozen different Chevrolet drivers have led 705 laps of the 1,000 that have been run in 2023.

  • The dominance has led to four consecutive wins for Chevrolet to start the Cup Season.

  • Twenty-three years ago, it was then Chevrolet drivers Michael Waltrip, Steve Park, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick who registered the accomplishment.

William Byron’s second consecutive victory Sunday at Phoenix Raceway provided Chevrolet with a sweep of the season’s first four races, marking the first time a single manufacturer has accomplished the feat since 2001.

Twenty-three years ago, it was then Chevrolet drivers Michael Waltrip, Steve Park, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick who registered the accomplishment.

Chevrolet’s 26th NASCAR Cup victory at Phoenix extended its all-time win record in the series to 837.

This year, a dozen different Chevrolet drivers have led 705 laps of the 1,000 that have been run in 2023. The only race dominated by Ford drivers was the Daytona 500 when they led 122 of the race’s 212 laps; however, it was Chevrolet driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who walked off with the victory.

nascar cup series united rentals work united 500
William Byron says that one of the secrets to success is a better understanding of the Next Gen car.Meg Oliphant - Getty Images

Crew chief Rudy Fugle noted Hendrick’s No. 24 team focused on the simulation program for Las Vegas and Phoenix during the off-season due to the two tracks’ role in the playoffs.

“We … run Vegas with four to go (in the playoffs). Phoenix, obviously, the last race of the year,” Fugle said. “You race them early in the year. Makes sense to work on those. Hope to take notes from these two races to propel ourselves o the first third, half of the year.”

After Daytona, NASCAR’s Cup Series kicked off its Western swing with Chevrolet drivers Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch dominating the Auto Club Speedway event, leading 118 of the race’s 200 laps before Busch emerged the victor.

Hendrick Motorsports then stepped to the forefront, dominating Las Vegas and Phoenix. In those two races, Hendrick drivers led 506 of the 588 laps. At Las Vegas, three Hendrick drivers led all but 30 laps, while at Phoenix two of them set the pace for 265 of the race’s 317 laps. Byron was the top lap leader at Las Vegas with 176 laps, while Kyle Larson accomplished the feat at Phoenix with 201 laps.

“I think last year … we didn’t really know the car or understand the car,” Byron said. “We were kind of just adapting to what we had. We were just making the most of an unpredictable situation with the entire field. There was a lot of attrition in the races, a lot of just weird things that were happening.

“I feel like now it’s strength on strength. It feels different. It feels like we’re more consistently towards the front and we’re leading laps.”

That brings into question whether the new car noses developed during the off-season for all three car makes have contributed to Chevrolet’s early dominance. NASCAR vice president, Vehicle Performance, Dr. Eric Jacuzzi said the changes that were made were “mostly driven by the cooling requirements in the car.”

“In the Next Gen development, we initially didn’t specify … between us and the OEMs … kind of what cooling capacity the cars needed,” Jacuzzi said. “They sort of used their best estimation and built some margin in and kind of went with that. Some of the races last year we found temps were on the high side. So, together with the industry we decided to basically make for 2023 specific cooling requirements.”

Jacuzzi said that because it was a “significant aero change … we allowed them to kind of tweak on things and make sure everybody was as competitive as they could be given the magnitude of this change.”

The OEMs also altered the front bumper facia with some becoming a little flatter.