JOLIET, Ill – This is exactly what Hendrick Motorsports needed. It was a vintage race for HMS. They’d reach victory lane for the second time in 17 races run in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and just their fifth since the start of last season.
See, when the organization saw drivers like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. retire, then watched Jimmie Johnson go into a 3+ year slump, they needed fresh blood. Unfortunately, their youth movement didn’t pay off.
2018 saw a rebuilding effort for HMS. Gone was Kasey Kahne, Gordon and Earnhardt and in was Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman. Heading into last season, that trio of Elliott, Byron and Bowman combined for zero Cup Series victories.
As we sit here today, they now have five, with Alex Bowman taking his No. 88 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time of his career. Bowman, now has six top 10 finishes over the last eight races himself including four of which being in the top two. He’s starting to really show that he can be a contender for this year’s championship too.
Johnson was second in the group with a fourth place finish in his No. 48 Chevrolet. It was just his seventh top five finish since the start of the 2017 season including only his second this season. But, it was his third top 10 result in the last six races on the year too, so you can see that Johnson is trending in the right direction. His car looked good all weekend and he remained in contention all day/night.
Elliott, brought his No. 9 Chevrolet home 11th but it wasn’t indicative on how good of a car that he had. If not for him stopping over the air hose of one of his crew members after the second stage, he would have been competing for the win in the end. Even in the races that he didn’t finish in the top five lately, he was strong. Last weekend in Sonoma, the Georgia native had another top five car before his engine expired. His time is coming again soon.
Byron, came home eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet for his fifth top 10 finish of the season, three of which coming in the last five races. The second year driver had a car capable of a top 10 last week but his crew chief Chad Knaus decided to go for stage points instead of the win. It worked. This week, they went for a win.
Byron’s car had to make changes overnight and he went from the 11th starting spot to 37th. He would make his way through the field though as he improved 16 positions up to 21st before the rain brought out a 3-hour, 18-minute delay. Strategy moved him up to the front and he’d remain, even leading nine laps overall.
Now it’s to Daytona where they put three of their four cars in the top four of the starting lineup for last year’s race. They qualified 1-2-3-4 for Daytona 500 qualifying back in February and won the last race on a superspeedway with this tapered spacer when Elliott won back in April at Talladega.
Things are certainly looking up for HMS.