That strategy session was a Sunday bonus in the battle of the manufacturers. NASCAR was able to get in 57 laps, all the way until the end of the first stage, before the rain began and teams were given a break.
The race was ultimately postponed and will resume Monday, so the Chevy group must wait to exercise the plans it hashed out in an impromptu mid-race meeting. In completing the entire first stage Sunday, teams got a preview of who is fast, who works well together, and if the battle of the manufacturers will dictate the outcome.
The Chevy drivers were tight-lipped on their discussions — and the Ford camp met hours before the start Sunday. Chase Elliott deadpanned the group discussed an updated Corvette under development.
William Byron won the first stage in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, with teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson right behind him. Then Joey Logano dipped to the bottom lane to lead a pack of Fords in a challenge for the stage victory.
But the Chevy group held strong, and as they closed in on the finish line, non-playoff driver Johnson eased out of the gas to allow fellow Chevrolet driver Kyle Larson to gain a spot ahead of him for critical playoff points. Johnson said during the rain break the work being done between manufacturers at Talladega and Daytona is like nothing he’s ever seen before in NASCAR.
“But these are the only two places it works,” Johnson said.
Toyota got this movement rolling in the last five years when it convinced its teams to work together in an effort to win the Daytona 500. Ford figured out the plan worked through seven consecutive victories at Talladega, and Chevrolet got serious about the effort after Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 with assistance from the Hendrick cars.
Chevrolet engineered its first win at Talladega since 2015 with an Elliott victory in April.
When racing resumes Monday, the manufacturers are expected to be tighter than ever after the preview it saw Sunday.
Paul Menard ceded his seat to Matt Crafton during the rain break because of a neck ailment that has been bothering Menard all week. Crafton will resume the race Monday.
Ryan Blaney spun while trying to enter pit road in the only dramatic moment of the first stage. The race is the middle one in the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs, with four drivers set to be eliminated from the field next week at Kansas.