CONCORD, N.C. – Chevrolet is a 36-time NASCAR Manufacturers’ Champion on the Sprint Cup circuit and the odds are it will earn its 37th title this season.With six races remaining, Chevy holds a 10-point lead over Toyota (206-196).
That’s not insurmountable but it is formidable.If Chevy does win another title, it will mean that it has won it 37 times since its full-time return to NASCAR in 1972, 41 years ago.
While Chevrolet competed regularly in NASCAR’s formative years, during most of the 1960s – the decade in which NASCAR raced into its superspeedway era – Chevy was out of racing.
As far as NASCAR was concerned, General Motors was a non-entity. Chrysler and Ford held sway with such dominant teams as Petty Enterprises (Chrysler) and Holman-Moody (Ford).
Thing was, Chevrolet was far and away the most popular car in America.
As the oft-told story goes, one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers and team owners realized this and thought something could be done about it.
Junior Johnson was a Ford man during the ‘60s but when the 1970s began, he found it difficult to acquire the necessary funds and technical assistance he needed from the manufacturer.
At the time, Ford was backing several successful teams and it is safe to say its pockets were only so deep.
Johnson’s last hurrah with Ford came in 1969, when Lee Roy Yarbrough won NASCAR’s “Triple Crown” with victories at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.
After a couple of seasons running a part-time schedule Johnson was approached by millionaire Richard Howard, the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, prior to the 1971 season.
Like Johnson, Howard knew that Chevy was out of racing. Being the keen promoter he was, he figured fans would turn out in droves at CMS to see a competitive Chevy on the track.
So he approached Johnson and said if the team owner from Ronda, N.C., would build a Chevy Howard would pay for it.
The deal was struck and Howard was listed as the owner of the Chevrolets Johnson built. “Chargin’ ” Charlie Glotzbach was hired as the driver.
Howard’s hopes were realized at the World 600 at CMS. Glotzbach won the pole and, in front of a huge crowd, led the most laps until a blown engine forced him to a 28th place finish.
Soon after, Glotzbach won at Bristol. That made it official – after many years, Chevy was a winner again.
Knowing full well Chevy’s impact, Howard and Johnson required promoters to pay a fee of thousands of dollars if they wanted the car in their races.
Some refused to pay. Many others did not.
In 1972 Howard and Johnson decided to run for the Winston Cup championship. They wanted to keep Glotzbach but had to accept a better offer.
Looking for work, Bobby Allison came to Johnson and Howard with a Coca-Cola sponsorship of $80,000 – a significant sum for the day.
In a red-and-gold Chevrolet Allison helped make NASCAR history. He won 10 races but, in a season-long war with Richard Petty, lost the championship by 128 points to his rival.
No matter. Chevrolet had a firm foothold in NASCAR. Success continued with Johnson, who became the team owner again after Howard’s departure following the 1974 season.
With Cale Yarborough aboard Johnson’s Chevy won three consecutive championships in 1976-1978.
That stood as the NASCAR record until Jimmie Johnson – yep, in a Chevrolet – won five in a row from 2006-2010.
Johnson is in a fight for a sixth championship. There are five drivers who have a shot at the title as the season moves to the Bank of America 500 at CMS, but the most intense battle may be waged between Johnson and points leader Matt Kenseth, who has had a superb season in Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas.
Kenseth leads Johnson by a mere three points.
“The track has been really good to us,” said Johnson, who has six career wins at Charlotte. “I certainly need another strong outing the way things are going in the Chase right now.
“I know our setup will be different here than it was in the spring. I feel we’re better off now.
“Of course, the whole field is better, too.”
For Chevrolet, the numbers are strong at CMS. Chevy drivers have won 41 of 109 races at the 1.5-mile track.
That includes three of the last five – Kevin Harvick (Coca-Cola 600, 2011-2013) and Kasey Kahne (600, 2012).
“It was good pit strategy that we hit on the last race here,” said Harvick, the winner at Kansas last week who is currently third in points, 25 behind Kenseth. “Gil Martin (crew chief) made the right call at the end to put us in position to have a good restart.
“Once we were in the right spot we were able to hold the lead.”
While it appears the numbers and the odds favor Chevrolet at Charlotte, there are certainly no guarantees – hardly.
Heck, even Chevy drivers will tell you that.