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Transcript: Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell

An Interview With: JIM CAMPBELL

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. Congratulations. Thank you for taking some time with us. I know we talked I think just two days ago about Chevrolet being back in this. To win a championship, how are you feeling right now?
JIM CAMPBELL: It’s a special day today. We are really excited. As I said in the OEM Zoom call, three, two, one, we had three drivers in the Truck Series and had a chance for the championship and Xfinity, too, and won in the Cup.
When it’s all said and done, Sheldon Creed delivered a truck championship as a driver, so we won the manufacturer’s championship there. In Xfinity, while we didn’t win the driver, we won the manufacture’s championship.
Chase Elliott, Alan Gustafson, the entire Hendrick organization delivered big time for a second championship on the driver’s side this weekend, the 32nd time a Chevy driver has won the Cup championship.
Chase and Alan, their team, the Hendrick organization, did an incredible job, drove through the field and then executed in every stage of the entire race.
The 22 was strong. The 2 was strong. The 11 was coming on at different points. Chase and Alan just did an incredible job of executing the entire race.
It was a clutch performance, two in a row with Martinsville and now Phoenix. It was fantastic. It was great to see the fans in the stands. And I’ll tell you, when Chase got to the lead, it was fun to see the reaction from the stands. There were a lot of Chase Elliott fans out there today.

Q. This has probably obviously been discussed, a trying season for a lot of people with COVID, especially the manufacturers. I don’t know what you thought the prospects were as the Playoffs drew to a close. But having been locked out of the Championship 4 since 2016, can you kind of describe your guys’ perspective and emotions over the last two weeks, locking in with one of your up and coming drivers like Chase and then having him duplicating the feat this weekend and giving you the championship?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, it was absolutely incredible, this Playoff format. It creates excitement. It creates immense amounts of pressure all the way around. The teams feel it. We feel it as manufacturers to deliver in those stages.
The last couple years we didn’t make it the last few years we did not make it to the final round. Very disappointing. But the whole phrase: Never give up, you can never give up. So the teams have been working hard. More work going on than probably people see, and it all came together.
Chase and Alan delivered a big win in Martinsville and then executed today to put it all together, and that’s what it takes. If you think about the beginning of the season whether we were going to really have a season, and to see all the races got scheduled, got run by the series, and to see Chase take it all the way to the championship is incredible.
One other thing, I just had a couple other items here. One, I remember when I was working at Chevrolet in a different role and I got a call from Rick Hendrick. This is 10 years ago. It was on a Saturday. I was preparing for some meetings with our dealers.
Rick said, I just signed Chase Elliott. And of course I knew his father. I knew of him and heard about him. At that time he was 14 years old. Think about how far Chase has come, all the races he’s won, an Xfinity Series championship and now he’s a Cup champion. It’s just an incredible run.
I’ll never forget that day that Rick called and signed young Chase Elliott, and I’m so glad he did.

Q. Jim, I believe it’s the first time in 32 years that the most popular driver has won the title. Does that mean anything when you look at just the importance to the sport?
JIM CAMPBELL: Absolutely. When I mentioned earlier, when Chase got to the lead today here in Phoenix, I was sitting on the outside of the track because of all the protocol. You can’t go inside the competition bubble. And to see the reaction of so many fans in the stands when Chase got to the lead, it was incredible.
It’s indicative of his popularity, not only with the fans here in Phoenix but all over the country, all over the world. I think it’s a huge lift for the sport. It’s awesome for Chevrolet, and he is such a talented driver.
I think it’s absolutely fantastic all the way around. I saw it with my own eyes today, as I have at many races when he takes the lead. Popular driver won it all. It was awesome.

Q. Do you see any sort of transition or changing of the guard in Chase winning his first championship in Jimmie’s final race?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, that’s a good question. Today was a special day for a lot of reasons. For those of us who have known Jimmie a long time, it was an incredible thing. This is his last Cup race as a full time driver in the series, and for Chevrolet.
As you may know, Jimmie, any time he raced on four wheels he raced with Chevrolet starting in an off road Truck Series and working his way through various series all the way up to Cup.
It was a pretty emotional day to think this was Jimmie’s last day. We were all celebrating his final race, but also to know the prospect of Chase potentially having a chance to win today and then he delivered was incredible.
I was actually walking from the outside of the track to the inside of the track after Chase won, and I understand that I haven’t seen it, but I understand that Jimmie got up close to Chase there and gave him a tap, car to car, and it’s pretty symbolic. The passing of the torch happened.
Jimmie Johnson, seven time champion, 83 wins, 20 years plus and racing with Chevy for many, many more. It’s incredible. Today was a passing of the torch without a doubt.

Q. With the of your championships this weekend, both drivers under 24, certainly we saw youth play a key role this weekend. I am curious, are there things you would look at doing more of in reaching younger drivers, developing younger drivers? Certainly I know there’s some already with Chevy team pipeline. Does a weekend like this start to lead to a change, or is a weekend like this a result of some changes you’ve made already?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, it’s a good question. First of all, Sheldon Creed is part of our Drivers Edge Program, which is part of our Driver Development Program. Sam Mayer is also part of that program, very successful in the ARCA series and super talented. He’s another driver up and coming.
We have a number of drivers that have had a lot of success that are in our development program called Drivers Edge. We kind of scale our Driver Development Program to the number of seats that are available down the road.
I’m very excited about what I saw with the drivers that are in that program, and there will be some other ones coming along, as well.
In addition, if you think about it, the transition from kind of veteran championship drivers has been happening at Chevy for a number of years. I’ve talked about it before in some of the start of the year press conferences and the OEM press conferences. But you think about Tony Stewart ran his whole career with our company, retired, and then Jeff Gordon retired and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and now Jimmie Johnson is going to leave NASCAR and go on to other things.
Along the way we have picked up so many amazing young drivers. Every year they get more experience, more mature, more reps at these tracks, and are really coming together not only as drivers but then as teams. So I am really optimistic. I am very optimistic about what’s going on in the Chevy camp for those reasons.
We couldn’t have been prouder to have those veteran drivers. By the way, Kevin Harvick is another one who got his championship in 2014 with Chevy at Homestead. He obviously went on and went over to the Ford camp when they made the switch. But there’s another example of the kind of drivers that have moved on from Chevy.
So what’s coming in? Young, talented drivers, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Q. It hasn’t been the best season on the Cup side statistically for Chevrolet, but do the last two weeks and the way it ended kind of take some of that sting away and also provide a springboard to a more successful 2021 season?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, you make a good point there. We had nine wins this year, but we got momentum at the right time. I don’t think it’s by mistake, actually. I do believe that the work we did with our key partner teams, which would be Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, we gathered together and put a lot of work into this Camaro ZL1 1LE that happened in the past years and we brought that to the track here at the beginning of the year. So we’re dialing that car in, and I think we’re getting more momentum with that.
In addition, Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress, I’m so proud of them, created this engine alliance, and that’s a very, very positive thing.
Along the way, between all of these efforts, our teams are working better together when we’re working on projects to prepare to go to the racetrack, and that’s a must. We do it in all the series. We’ve done it with some degrees of success here in NASCAR, but I really do believe that we have tremendous momentum on that front, and we’re only going to get stronger in that area.
Yeah, nine wins when you look at our historic performance doesn’t really measure up, but we got the wins at the right time, all the way through the stages of the Playoff, and Chase Elliott delivered an amazing championship win today.

Q. Concerning Jimmie Johnson, this was his last race after, if I’m counting this correctly, his 19th full time season in competition, a seven time series champion. How much has his ambassadorship in the sport and his competitiveness meant for Chevrolet as a whole?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, I touched on it earlier. You certainly have highlighted the accomplishments he’s had in NASCAR, particularly in the Cup Series.
But as I mentioned earlier, Jimmie Johnson as a young guy joined the Chevrolet team and raced in almost every form of off road truck racing, and then he graduated into ASA, and then went into the at the time called the Busch Series, obviously Xfinity Series now. He’s run with us in the IMSA series in the 24 Hours at Daytona. Then obviously his accomplishments in NASCAR have been absolutely incredible.
Jimmie is an incredible representative on the track and off the track. He’s just a first class guy. He represents our brand so very well, and he’s helped us do product introductions.
As one example we featured Jimmie in a commercial that described the first time he brought his daughter home in his Chevrolet Tahoe, and it was a real moment and he recounted it. He’s just represented our brand so well. He’s done so many meetings with our employees, he’s been to our plants, done dealer meetings, and he’s just an incredible guy, first class all the way. Also he does so many great things off the track for others.
We’re going to miss him here, but I’m optimistic that Jimmie Johnson is going to obviously he’s going to INDYCAR, but I expect he’s going to be dabbling in other race series, as well. I hope to see him again.

Q. Speaking about Jimmie Johnson, what’s one story that you can maybe share about the time you guys all spent together at Chevrolet that stands out in your mind looking back?
JIM CAMPBELL: You know, I would say we have had Jimmie where he has come to one of our big dealer meetings and all that, but I would say 2016 when he won that championship, that was a challenging, difficult race. He got an opportunity, he seized on it, and he put the seventh championship on the board. I just remember that moment and the celebration that took place after.
That was a very special moment. I remember the team just celebrating in a big way. I remember him jumping into his crew’s arms. Seven championships, it’s just an incredible accomplishment. So that one was probably one of my favorites.
But there’s a lot of things that he’s done with us away from the racetrack that have been very special, as well, with our employees and our dealers.

Q. Looking towards the future, you’ve been with Chase Elliott since the beginning of his NASCAR career with Hendrick Motorsports. What is it like riding that rollercoaster with him?
JIM CAMPBELL: Well, it’s been more like a rocket ship. Super talented. I remember he made his mark in the Xfinity Series and won that championship. It was a big moment. He had a great season and brought that championship home.
And then to watch so many times where he was top 2, came in second or third, and then he finally got his first win, and then to see his popularity grow and grow and grow. We were talking about that earlier. Then for him to have five wins this year, the wins at the right time and then bring him a championship.
He is so happy. To see the embrace he had with his crew, with Alan, they’ve got just incredible chemistry. I watched them in kind of the championship area, got a chance to see his parents for the first time since he got out of the car and he was a champion just like his father. That was such a special moment.
He is an exceptional young man. He’s a young guy, and he is talented behind the wheel. He’s also been a great representative for us not only on the track but off the track. And think about all the years ahead. That puts a smile on my face.

Q. Jim, as a longtime observer of the sport, I’ve often felt like if fans saw the car on the track on Sunday they would buy it on Monday. Obviously the culture has kind of changed a little bit over the years. But with the next gen car coming out, I know it’s too early to tell, but how much do you think some of that old feeling will come back?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I would just say when you win big races and championships like today, it does lift our brand opinion, the opinion, the way people think about our brand, it lifts it for sure, and we know good things happen. People put you on their shopping list more quickly.
The question is, does it happen on Monday after the race or does it happen on Monday in one or two or three or four months or even in a year? And the answer is we do see a correlation between success on the track and the ability for us to translate that between lifting the brand and also driving our business.
As it relates to the next gen, obviously we’ve got a lot of time to talk about that. Today is really about the championship. But I’m very excited about the next gen car, and what NASCAR has done to update the technology, the automotive technology, chassis components underneath the car, to be more connected to what we actually design into and sell in cars and trucks today, that I’m excited about.
Also the proportions of the car take us even another step closer to what we offer in the showroom, and that’s a winning combination.
A lot of time to talk about the next gen. We’re super proud to have been here today. This Phoenix track has been incredible. The facility is incredible, and it was a great race today from my perspective with Chase winning it.
By the way, it was great to see you guys when you were asking your questions with your camera on. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Jim, thank you so much for taking some time with us. Congratulations, and good luck in the future and have a great off season.

— NASCAR —