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NASCAR Roundtable: Is Chevrolet at a disadvantage early in 2018?

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NASCAR Roundtable: Is Chevrolet at a disadvantage early in 2018?
Mar 1, 2018, 5:49 PM

The Motorsport.com NASCAR team tackle this week's hot topics following the second race of the 2018 season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Jimmy John's Ford Fusion, celebrates in victory lane
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Jimmy John's Ford Fusion celebrates
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Jimmy John's Ford Fusion
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta Chevrolet Camaro
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta Chevrolet Camaro
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, DEX Imaging Ford Fusion and Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, DeWalt Toyota Camry
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Bass Pro Shops/5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra
Noah Gragson, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra
Kyle Busch, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Cessna Toyota Tundra
Brett Moffitt, Hattori Racing Enterprises, AISIN Atlanta Toyota Tundra celebrates his win

Despite Chevrolet launching the new Camaro this season, the Ford Fusion seems to be performing well despite being an older model. What do you think is the reason the Fords are doing so well so far? Is it too early to say Ford has an edge over Chevrolet and Toyota?

Jim Utter: Regardless of anyone's performance, it's way too early to say any manufacturer has an edge. Superspeedways have their own set of rules and one race at Atlanta on the oldest surface in the sport doesn't foretell performance everywhere else. Clearly, though, it's a good sign for the Ford teams with their strong start. The Ford teams were already making gains at the end of last season but at least part of the change this season could well be due to the new NASCAR inspection process. It clearly has changed the dynamic as to how cars are brought to the track and may have leveled the playing field somewhat. We'll have a better idea after this weekend's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nick DeGroot: I want to hold my opinion until after Las Vegas. Ford certainly as the early edge, but I believe Las Vegas will be the track that really shows who has the superior package early on. Atlanta is unique and not really representative of other intermediate tracks. I still think Toyota will be the one to jump ahead as the season progresses.

Tim Southers: I agree that it’s way too early to say one manufacturer has an advantage over another as Daytona is its own animal and we’ve only had one other race at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. The Fords have looked strong so far and I think many of the Ford teams are off to good starts. This three-race swing out West will go a long way of showing if the Fords will be strong all year or if the Chevrolets will be able to catch up and have a good stretch of races.

Jimmie Johnson has really struggled over the first two races and while Alex Bowman won the pole at Daytona, it appears their cars seem to be a little off. Should there be any reason to worry?

Jim: Again, way too early to read anything into the Hendrick organization. HMS was struggling last season and a new car model for Chevrolet wasn't going to be an automatic panacea. In fact, with virtually no testing anymore, it may take the Chevrolet teams several races - or even weeks - to realize the full benefit from their new Camaro.

Nick: I lean towards the sentiment that it is a bit too early to make a proper judgement, but I will say that Atlanta was a disaster for Hendrick Motorsports. All four cars struggled mightily and that would concern me. They definitely have some work to do, that's for sure.

Tim: We’ve seen Jimmie Johnson go through slumps before, but he always finds a way to turn things around and become a contender when it’s playoff time. I think there is no reason to panic for the fans of seven-time. They’ll get things straightened out on the new car and once again be a regular contender for wins and again be in the playoffs come September.

Martin Truex Jr. almost lost crew chief Cole Pearn during inspection by the OSS system at Atlanta and did have their car chief sent home. There have been crew members sent home during each of the first two race weekends of the season. Do you see this becoming a trend this season or will teams figure this out?

Jim: Part of the reason it's a new trend is because the penalties are new for this season. I am surprised that in the first two race weekends, we've already seen crew members ejected in both. It seemed clear NASCAR meant business with the change to its new inspection system, specifically the full car body scans. I guess regardless of what NASCAR does there will always be teams who want to test the boundaries. In my opinion there is no reason why a car shouldn't arrive at a track fully legal and ready to race within the rules.

Nick: The issues are nothing new, but these ejections from the track are and that should really get the team's attention. Having a crew chief suspended and being able to make a plan is one thing, but having them essentially thrown out of the track on Friday or Saturday is something else entirely. I think we can expect less tech issues because of that in 2018, but I won't be surprised if we see a few crew chief ejections before it's all said and done.

Tim: One thing is certain, NASCAR is showing teams they mean business with the new inspection system. There has been a crew member sent home each of the first two weekends of the season and while I feel it will happen again this season, I don’t think this will become a weekly trend. The teams will figure things out and we’ll see less and less of these types of penalties.

With the Truck race coming up in Las Vegas this weekend, this will be the earliest they've had three consectutive races in a long time. We've seen a veteran win at Daytona and a young gun win at Atlanta. Who do you think can get it done at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? 

Jim: I think Las Vegas native Noah Gragson earns his first Truck victory of the season at his hometown track this weekend. He ran well at Daytona and finished second at Atlanta, even overcoming several obstacles in the race. The key will be to keep mistakes at a minimum and I believe he's getting better at that every week.

Nick: You'd be foolish not to pick Kyle Busch who is going for the hat trick at his home track, but if we only want to look at regulars, I'd go for Noah Gragson. I think a young gun will prevail and he is at the top of my list of drivers who could get the job done. And like his boss Kyle Busch, Vegas is also his home.

Tim: I know Brett Moffitt broke through and scored a win for the young guns last weekend at Atlanta, but I feel Johnny Sauter will once again lead the way for the veterans in Las Vegas and score his second win of the season.

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