FORT WORTH, Texas — Finally, there is reason to feel optimistic for fans of Hendrick Motorsports. After top-10 performances in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson and William Byron feel perhaps the organization is heading in the right direction.
“Yes, we are definitely moving in the right direction,” Johnson exclaimed after climbing from his race car. “Car was good in clean air and had a lot of speed in it, so I think we have found kind of center for our cars and what has to happen. It was a little evil in traffic, and I had a heck of a time on green flag restarts, but really worked hard to get it up underneath me and tightening the car up a little bit for us to race. Ended up having great pace and decent drivability, so are working in the right direction. I am just so proud of everybody on this Ally team. We’ve had a lot of pressure on us, and everyone has stepped up and getting it done.”
For Hendrick Motorsports it has been an uncharacteristic last couple of seasons. The 12-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship winning team, has slumped.
Over the last 79 races, the super team has won just seven races between their stable of four drivers. To put it in perspective, Kyle Busch has won 15 races in the Cup Series during that same span by himself.
However, after Chase Elliott’s runner-up finish in Martinsville a couple of weeks ago and strong runs by the entire team of drivers this weekend, it signals a return to form may not be a faint object in the distance anymore.
“Yeah, it was good,” Byron, who finished sixth, said. “We had a gun break on the first pit stop. I felt like we were running in the top-five at that point. And then we got back to the top-five later in the race and I ran about fifth or sixth. It just felt like we were right there all day. It was a little bit free after that last green flag pit stop and that hurt us a slight bit. But, overall it’s good and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Although the final results don’t show it, Chase Elliott was very strong as well for a good portion of the race before fading to a 13th-place finish. And Alex Bowman did a great job of moving his backup race car to 18th-place after starting at the rear of the field as a result of crashing his primary car in qualifying.
Overall, the team of drivers led a total of 110 laps in this race, which is the most the team has led in a race since Chase Elliott paced the field for 112 laps at Bristol last fall.
Johnson led 60 laps on Sunday — eclipsing the 40 laps he led all of last year, in one race — en route to a fifth place finish. Needless to say that is enough to motivate the seven-time champion.
“Absolutely,” Johnson answered when pressed on if his day was inspiring. “This is what we’ve been looking for.”