First-ever Silverado pace-truck leads Daytona 500
The headlines report that General Motors is betting on self-driving electric Rivian pickup trucks. But this weekend, GM's Chevy brand will pace the field in the Daytona 500's first-ever pace-truck — the hands-on V-8-powered Silverado pickup.
Behind the wheel? None other than NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The blue pace truck is part of a national marketing blitz for the all-new Silverado — remade from the ground up for 2019 — that is the highest-volume, most-profitable vehicle that GM manufactures. With 585,582 in 2018 sales, the full-size pickup was second only to perennial sales-leader Ford F-Series as the best-selling truck in America.
Add up sales of the Silverado, sister GMC Sierra and midsize Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, and GM sold 973,471 pickups last year — more than any other automaker.
The trucks are cash cows that feed GM's ambitious investment in electric and autonomous vehicles, including a possible piece of Rivian, an electric pickup maker which promises a semi-autonomous, 400-mile range EV pickup for the 2021 model year.
But for the 2019 model year, it's all about Silverado.
The new Silverado is distinguished by its narrow headlights and grille — design elements adapted from the Chevy Camaro muscle car, which will be racing against NASCAR Ford Mustangs and Toyota Camrys for the 500 win.
Prior to the pickup, Chevrolet has paced the Daytona 500 a dozen times with pace cars: seven with Camaro and five with Corvette.
GM promises a high-tech future of "zero crashes, zero crashes and zero congestion" featuring driverless, robot electric cars. But Sunday's race will feature one of the most recognizable drivers of all time, Earnhardt Jr., himself a two-time winner of the 500.
“I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success at Daytona over the years, and now I can’t wait to get out on that track in a Silverado,” he said. “Away from the track I’ve driven Chevy trucks all my life, and I’m excited to have this unique experience of pacing the Daytona 500.”
Earnhardt isn't the first celebrity face behind at the truck's helm. Emmet Brickowski, the animated star of "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part," steers a Lego version of the truck through a promotional ad for the movie now in theaters. The truck also makes a cameo appearance in the film.
Lego constructed a full-size version of the Silverado that debuted at the Detroit auto show in January. The Lego truck is at the Chicago Auto Show this week as part of a national show tour.
Chevy is flooding the airwaves with three national ads for the SIlverado to tout its light-weighted steel chassis, best-in-class bed size and remote-drop tailgate. But for Daytona, what really matters on Sunday is the truck's 106-mph top speed as Earnhardt puts the hammer down and leads the pack of race cars to the green flag.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.