Statistically, the Auto Club Speedway has been kind to Hendrick Motorsports over the years. While Alex Bowman hasn’t raced on the 2-mile California track before for Hendrick, he was very good at its sister track in Michigan during the 2016 season in the race that he filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. William Byron is a rookie and coming off of a momentum changing race last weekend in Phoenix, a race that he led his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series laps in and finished 12th.
Elliott, has made two Cup starts at Fontana, finishing sixth and 10th respectively in each. Johnson, well he’s been down right dominant there. He has an average finishing position of 7.13. In his last 15 starts in the race, 12 of which have resulted in a top 10 finish. Nine of those 12 were actually in the top three at that.
But, last year he spun in practice and started in the back. He’d only climb to finish 21st. This year, he’s struggled even more. He crashed in all three races at Daytona and finishing 38th in the season opening Daytona 500. In Atlanta, he was a lap down by the time the first stage ended. By the end of the second stage, he was spinning all by himself. He’d finish three laps down in 27th. Two weeks ago in Vegas, he was once again multiple laps down early and had to fight to earn his laps back. But, in the closing laps, he was put a lap down again and would finish 12th. Last weekend in Phoenix, he never really was a factor, but he did finish on the lead lap for the first time all season with a 14th place run. He now has finished outside the top 10 for 10 straight races. Over his last 27 races, he has one top five finish and that was in the Fall Dover race. Really, if you go past his Dover win last June too, he has just those two top five finishes over his last 32 starts. That’s nearly one full calendar season (36 races in a year) and the only top fives he’s scored were at the same track.
It’s not just Johnson struggling though. Elliott, Bowman and Byron are in 2018 as well. They all sit 16th, 17th, 21st and 26th respectively in the Cup standings. None of the four are big contenders like they should be. While they were all better at Phoenix, that’s a 1.022-mile short track, Fontana is a big wide open 2-mile oval that promotes horsepower.
With a new car and three drivers all under the age of 24, is Hendrick’s problem car, engine or inexperience related?
That’s why I don’t trust them on Sunday.