Slowly and surely Hendrick Motorsports is turning things around.
In 2018, Hendrick won three times, all with Elliott. But the first victory – Elliott’s first Cup win – didn’t come until race No. 22 at Watkins Glen International Speedway.
But the improvements for Hendrick through 17 races this season are not just with the No. 9 and No. 88 teams.
All four of Hendrick’s cars have put together a better resume heading to Daytona than they did at this point last year.
Here are some numbers courtesy of Racing Insights.
Through 17 races, Elliott has six top fives, seven top 10s and two poles while leading 406 laps. Last year, Elliott had 11 top fives, 21 top 10s, one pole and led 325 laps all season.
William Byron has made significant improvement from his rookie year.
Byron has five top-10 finishes, 180 laps led and three poles this year. Byron’s entire rookie campaign saw four top 10s, 61 laps led and no poles. At Sonoma Raceway last month, Byron led every lap in the first stage to earn his first career stage win.
Byron heads to Daytona trying for some redemption. After he earned the pole for the Daytona 500, he crashed nine laps from the finish.
“The thing with Daytona though is you can’t really prepare for it; it’s about making sure you’re still there in the end,” Byron said in a media release. “The hope is to collect as many points as possible in the first two stages to help balance out what may happen in the end, but even then, it’s easy to lose a ton as well. Hopefully though we can get the result that I think our team deserves. I honestly feel like we should be contending for the win at the end.”
Jimmie Johnson, still mired in the longest winless streak of his career at 76 races, is marginally ahead of his 2018 pace.
The No. 48 team has a pole, two top fives and 78 laps led in 2019. Johnson had no poles, only two top fives and 40 laps led in all of 2018
Bowman’s four top fives in 2019, including his win, come after having he earned the first three top fives of his career last season.
Bowman’s top 10 total (six) is tied for his total at this point last year.
In the last eight races, Bowman has led the Cup Series in most points earned with 323. That’s 20 points more than Elliott in second. Byron has earned the eighth most points with 257.
From Racing Insights, here’s what’s contributed to Bowman’s large points gain, anchored by his streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes.
Can Bowman and the rest of Hendrick continue to build on their momentum this weekend in Daytona?
They have recent history on their side given Johnson’s win the Busch Clash in February and the team’s performance at Talladega in April. That’s where Elliott and Bowman finished 1-2 for Hendrick’s first win of the year and when Bowman began his surge. Meanwhile, Byron placed 21st as the last driver on the lead lap. Johnson finished 33rd after he hit the wall on Lap 25 upon cutting a tire.
“Going to Daytona this weekend, we have a little bit of a monkey off our back,” Bowman said in a media release. “I was one who definitely kept track of the point standings and now we can go out and focus on stage points and race wins. Being locked into the playoffs is an amazing feeling. Our goal is to get to Miami and be in the running for a championship.
“This team brought an amazing car to Talladega earlier this year and I know that these guys were back in the shop this weekend putting together a great car for this weekend. The superspeedway program at Hendrick Motorsports has always been good and the teams all work together pretty well on track. I think we have a shot at the win this weekend too, which is a great feeling.”
While Hendrick Motorsports had only one win in the last 10 Daytona points races with a restrictor plate (Dale Earnhardt Jr., July 2015), it has held the crown for more than two years when it came to pure qualifying speed.
In the first Daytona race with the tapered spacer packages, Hendrick will try to extend its record streak of five consecutive Daytona poles.