Hendrick Motorsports’ Future Starts in 2018
Alex Bowman. William Byron. Chase Elliott. Jimmie Johnson. What a diverse group. A driver with 81 Cup starts and no wins. A driver with no Cup starts and an XFINITY Series championship. A winless Cup championship contender from last season. A seven-time champion and 83-time race winner. My excitement for the future of Hendrick Motorsports is the most I have for any team in NASCAR right now.
One of Hendrick’s two newcomers is Alex Bowman. Bowman hasn’t driven a Cup car in competition since 2016, and will run every race of the season for the first time since his rookie year in 2014. Bowman ran the No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014 and 2015 and subbed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 10 races in 2016. Expectations are high for Bowman as he takes over the No. 88 car for a retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2018. Bowman won his first XFINITY Series race at Charlotte last year, his second of only three races he ran all season, in any NASCAR series. He didn’t finish worse than eighth in the three starts. While his sample size in good equipment is not very large, he has shown maturity, despite being only in his middle 20s. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bowman, but don’t be surprised to find him in victory lane next season.
Hendrick’s other newcomer is Cup rookie William Byron. Byron has never made a Cup start or even practiced a Cup car. The reigning XFINITY Series champ has only been racing for a few seasons. The 20-year-old made his first NASCAR start in 2015, and enters his fourth full season of NASCAR this season. He has not run more than one season in a given series. Clearly he is a fast learner, and while the Cup series may be a steeper-than-average learning curve, Byron has shown that he can conquer anything. I expect to see him contending for wins before the regular season ends. He will likely make the playoffs, either through points or a win.
Chase Elliott came oh-so-close to winning several times last season. He led laps in seven of the ten playoff races and finished fifth in points after missing the final four, losing the lead to Matt Kenseth late at Phoenix. Elliott seems destined to win sooner or later, and once the first one comes, they will start flooding in. He will certainly win in 2018, there’s no way around it.
Jimmie Johnson is the veteran at Hendrick, but his future seems the dullest. The 42-year-old seemed to struggle. While three wins early on cemented his place in the playoffs, the 22 races following his win at Dover reveal some dire details. In those races, Johnson scored only a single top five, a third at Dover, and six top ten finishes. Six of his seven DNFs came after that win at Dover as well. Even when he won, Johnson didn’t dominated like he used to. He led only 217 laps the entire season, and only 45 after that last win of the season. JJ’s only hope will be Chevy’s new Camaro ZL1, which promises to help the Chevrolet organizations stay with the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.
Speaking of the new car, expect a slightly slow start from the Chevys and they fine tune, similar to the Toyotas last season. Also alike the Toyotas, they will find their groove, and a what a groove it will be. Domination will fall into place, with Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and maybe even William Byron leading tons of laps en route to victory. If Johnson can find his groove again, Hendrick may even get all four of their cars into the playoffs.