Chevrolet's NASCAR Cup Series History in 10 Cars

Photo:  James Gilbert (Getty Images)
Photo: James Gilbert (Getty Images)

Last Sunday, Kyle Busch won his second NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Talladega Superspeedway. Busch found his way from third to first on the final lap as Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney collided. Busch’s victory is only his sixth career win behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, but it adds to the brand’s total of over 800 wins in NASCAR’s highest division.

Chevrolet’s distinctive bowtie logo has adorned stock cars in NASCAR’s sanctioned races since the organization’s founding in 1949. Chevrolet has had plenty of ups and downs over NASCAR’s 75 years. Seven-time champions Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson have all won at least one title while driving a Chevy. There was also an 11-year period where no driver won a championship with a Chevrolet.

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Thousands of Chevys have been raced in the NASCAR Cup Series. Here are ten cars that illustrate the brand’s history in the championship:

Herb Thomas’ 1955 Chevrolet 150

Photo:  General Motors
Photo: General Motors

Chevrolet’s first major NASCAR win came when Herb Thomas won the 1955 Southern 500. The victory was the third Southern 500 win of Thomas’ career, the first driver to do so. Thomas became NASCAR’s first multi-time champion after winning the 1951 and 1953 Grand National Championships with Hudson. He began racing Chevrolets in 1955.

Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150 - “The Black Widow”

Image:  Barrett-Jackson
Image: Barrett-Jackson

American manufacturer participation was put in doubt after the 1955 Le Mans disaster. Congress debated banning motorsport in the United States, but Detroit voluntarily ended factory-backed racing to prevent legal prohibition.

To circumvent the automakers’ gentlemen’s agreement, General Motors hired a former Hudson race engineer to start a front business to convert stock Chevrolet 150s into racing machines referred to as Black Widows. Buck Baker won the 1957 NASCAR Grand National Championship in a Black Widow.

According to NASCAR, GM ordered the shadow program stopped during the 1957 season after the Automobile Manufacturers Association formally banned factory racing efforts.

Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle

Photo:  Mecum Auctions
Photo: Mecum Auctions

Chevrolets couldn’t launch a serious season-long effort against Ford, Plymouth and Dodge until General Motors restarted its factory racing involvement in 1970. In 1973, Benny Parsons won Chevrolet’s first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship since Ned Jarrett in 1961. Parsons won the title with only a single win but had 15 top-five finishes.

Richard Petty’s 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Photo:  Petty’s Garage
Photo: Petty’s Garage

Richard Petty won most of his championships with either Plymouth or Dodge, but the King got his seventh and final title in 1979 with a Chevrolet. Frustrated with the 1978 Dodge Magnum’s uncompetitiveness, Petty switched to General Motors late in the 1978 season. He finished the year without a win but returned to the front with his Monte Carlo in 1979.

Dale Earnhardt’s 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Aerocoupe

Photo:  Canepa
Photo: Canepa

The production Monte Carlo Aerocoupe was a homologation special as Chevrolet sold the minimum of 200 cars for its body to be eligible for NASCAR competition. The shorter trunk lid and sloped rear window offer better aerodynamic performance compared to the standard Monte Carlo. In 1987, Dale Earnhardt won a career-high 11 races and his third championship with the Aerocoupe.

Cole Trickle’s 1989 Chevrolet Lumina

Days of Thunder - Trailer

In 1989, Chevrolet replaced the Monte Carlo with the Lumina in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Dale Earnhardt won the Lumina’s first and his fourth championship in 1990. Earlier that year, Lumina stock cars prepared by Hendrick Motorsports would be front and center in Days of Thunder, a Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise.

Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - “T-Rex”

The true story of ‘T-Rex’

Over the decade, Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports would gradually challenge Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing as the leading Chevrolet effort in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Gordon won four championships between 1995 and 2001.

One of Gordon’s most memorable races during the period was a non-championship race. Gordon’s crew chief Ray Evernham brought a Monte Carlo so dominant to the 1997 All-Star Race that NASCAR banned it directly afterward. The car is referred to as the T-Rex because of its Jurassic Park paint scheme.

Jimmie Johnson’s 2008 Chevrolet Impala SS

Photo:  Chris Williams /Icon SMI/Icon Sport (Getty Images)
Photo: Chris Williams /Icon SMI/Icon Sport (Getty Images)

NASCAR changed in numerous ways over the 2000s, like the introduction of the Chase for the Cup and the Car of Tomorrow. The car significantly improved safety in NASCAR but was heavily criticized for its appearance. The CoT featured a massive splitter at the front and a rear wing instead of a spoiler.

Hendrick Motorsports, though, continued its winning ways. Jimmie Johnson won five consecutive championships from 2006 through 2010. The Car of Tomorrow has a partial debut in 2007 and was rolled out at every race in 2008.

Jimmie Johnson’s 2016 Chevrolet SS

Photo:  Robert Laberge (Getty Images)
Photo: Robert Laberge (Getty Images)

The Car of Tomorrow was replaced with the Gen 6 car in 2013. The cars incorporated carbon fiber for some body panels and a digital dashboard. Most notably, the stock cars featured bodies that abandoned the near-universal CoT shape for forms more similar to their production counterparts. The Chevrolet Gen 6 car was modeled on the Chevy SS, a rebadged Holden Commodore. Jimmie Johnson won his final two championships with the Gen 6 SS.

Chase Elliott’s 2022 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Photo:  Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire (Getty Images)
Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire (Getty Images)

In transitioning from Gen 6 to the Next Gen cars, Chevrolet shifted its Cup Series cars from the SS to the Camaro ZL1. Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott fell just short of winning the championship in the Camaro’s debut year. Though, it’s unclear how long the Camaro will be used in the NASCAR Cup Series. Chevrolet is planning to discontinue the current Camaro after the 2024 model year. The nameplate won’t vanish but is rumored to return as an electric vehicle.

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