Sunday night was exactly what Hendrick Motorsports needed. It was a vintage race for them. 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.
Now, HMS has crept back to among the favorites once again. It wasn’t that long ago that this was the team to beat. From 1995 through 2001, Jeff Gordon won four championships in a seven year span. Terry Labonte (1996) won another. Then, Jimmie Johnson rattled off five titles in-a-row between 2006 and 2010. He won another in 2013 for six championships in a span of eight years.
Between 1995 and 2013, HMS had won 11 Cup Series championships in 19 years. But, the stats started to decline since.
See, the organization saw drivers like Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. retire. Then, they watched Johnson go into a 3+ year slump. They needed new blood. Unfortunately, their youth movement didn’t pay off initially.
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.
The action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
As we sit here today, they now have five win, with Alex Bowman taking his No. 88 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time of his career on Sunday in Chicagoland. 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 on Sunday in Joliet. 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 this weekend 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. They’d finish 1-2 in fact that day.
Things are certainly looking up for HMS. They’re contenders once again.