Standing on 399--Chevrolet poised for milestone at Daytona. Daytona Beach, Fla., July 4, 2003 -- When Saturday night's Pepsi 400 winds down, chances are a Chevrolet is going to be in Victory Lane. After all, four of the last five races at...
Standing on 399--Chevrolet poised for milestone at Daytona.
Daytona Beach, Fla., July 4, 2003 -- When Saturday night's Pepsi 400 winds down, chances are a Chevrolet is going to be in Victory Lane. After all, four of the last five races at Daytona have been won by Chevrolet Monte Carlos, driven by either Michael Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If such is the case, and the odds are in favor of it, then Chevrolet will have won 400 NASCAR Winston Cup races in the modern era (1972-present) of the fastest-growing sport in all America.
Robby Gordon won No. 399 at Infineon Raceway on June 22, some 29 years and nearly three months after Bobby Allison won the first on March 26, 1972 at Atlanta International Raceway. Allison's car owner then was Richard Howard, and his team manager that season the incomparable Junior Johnson. Allison's victory at Atlanta was the first for a Chevrolet on a superspeedway since Johnson won at Charlotte in October 1963.
"I think winning that number of races in Winston Cup is amazing," said Richard Childress, owner of Gordon's Cingular Monte Carlo as well as the Chevrolets driven by Kevin Harvick and Steve Park. "Chevrolet's whole engineering program and the people behind it, all the way up to John Middlebrook and those folks, they've supported us throughout the years. It'll be a great milestone in Winston Cup racing, especially with the amount of time that they were out of it."
Since 1972, Chevrolet has won 138 more races than the next closest manufacturer, Ford, which still leads overall in NASCAR victories. That gap, however, is steadily shrinking. In career totals, Ford has 536 victories compared to 515 for Chevrolet. A closer look at the totals tells the story. From 1949 to 1971, Ford won 275 races compared to 116 for Chevrolet. Since 1972, Chevrolet has led the way, 399-261. Pontiac stands third in the modern era with 85 victories, with more than 25 percent (22) of those coming in the 1993 and 2000 seasons. Some extrapolation reveals that GM Racing machines have won 578 of the 967 races run since 1972, an amazing 59.8 percent.
"If you look at Chevrolet, our co-founder, Louis Chevrolet, was a terrific engineer, but his passion was racing," said Jim Campbell, Marketing Director for Chevy Racing, NASCAR and IRL. "Racing is part of our DNA at Chevrolet. We are clearly invested very heavily in racing, whether it be in the American Le Mans Series with the Corvette C5-R, the Chevy Cavalier in NHRA, the Indy Racing League with the Chevy Indy V-8 and clearly with the Chevy Monte Carlo in the NASCAR series. Our first victory with the Chevy Monte Carlo came at Atlanta in 1972 with Bobby Allison, and that was a fantastic victory. Here we are in 2003 with a chance for our 400th victory, and to have that opportunity here at Daytona makes it extra special."
In the roughly 29 and a half seasons since the modern era of NASCAR was born, Chevrolets have won at least one race in every year. No other manufacturer has done so. In the 967 races of the modern era, Chevrolet has won 399 (41.2 percent). In 1980, Chevrolet won an amazing 22 of 30 races (73.3 percent). That lofty percentage is not the record, however. That distinction belongs to Buick. Buick Regals won 25 of 30 races in 1982 (83.3 percent). That season, GM products won 28 of the 30 events run (Chevrolet won three) for a winning percentage of .933.
This season, after 16 races, Chevrolet has won eight, Ford five, Dodge two and Pontiac one. Chevrolet drivers Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500), Bobby Labonte (Atlanta), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Talladega), Jeff Gordon (Martinsville), Joe Nemechek (Richmond), Jimmie Johnson (Lowe's), Tony Stewart (Pocono) and Robby Gordon (Sonoma) have all earned victories this season.
To a car owner like Childress, who has been a Chevrolet loyalist since the early 1960s, winning No. 400 would be a major accomplishment. "I think it will be a big deal," Childress said. "It's great to be part of the history, winning those races with Dale Earnhardt. We won some with Ricky Rudd. I raced Chevrolet engines in modifieds back in the early 1960s. I even ran a 1969 Camaro here in the GT Grand American when they came out with that series. I've basically always run Chevrolets. I ran Pontiac for two years in 1980 and 1981, but I have had a Chevrolet throughout my career other than that. I drove other cars for other people, but at RCR, we've always had Chevrolets. I had Chevrolets when there wasn't but three of us out there--me, Coo Coo Marlin and Friday Hassler. Junior Johnson built one in 1971 or so, and that kind of started more people toward Chevrolet."
It was that car that Allison drove to victory in 1972, starting the race toward No. 400.