TALLADEGA, Ala – Once upon a time, the Hendrick Motorsports cars were the top dogs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on restrictor plate tracks. Now, they’re just happy to do what they did, three cars finishing in the top 12.
Some may look at the Lap 165 crash as what was a bad day for the four car organization, but I see even more positives leaving the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend.
For starters, the group is starting to surge. Chase Elliott earned his second top three finish in the last three races of the season and fourth top 11 in his last five starts overall. Elliott, finished third in his No. 9 Chevrolet in Sunday’s GEICO 500. The Georgia native was runner-up last week in Richmond too.
Despite that solid run, Elliott was frustrated with a third place run as he said he had no drafting help at the end. He’s right too, Ford drivers took six of the top seven finishing spots. Elliott, was the lone driver not of the Ford contingent in the lead pack at the end. No one would work with him obviously.
Alex Bowman led 26 laps, second most of the day, and brought his No. 88 Chevrolet home eighth. It was Bowman’s fifth top 13 finish in the last seven starts on the season. He’s starting to come along too.
Jimmie Johnson was 12th in his No. 48 Chevrolet for his third straight top 12 effort and seventh top 15 result in the last eight starts on the season. But, he and rookie William Byron sparked a 14 car melee with 23 laps-to-go when Byron veered briefly up off the bottom of the banking and nearly made contact with Johnson’s car. Neither made contact, but the air from the draft forced both cars to spin separately and cause 12 more cars behind to crash. Johnson, would continue on, Byron wouldn’t as he’d finish 29th in his No. 24 Chevrolet as a result. Prior to that, Byron led 14 laps and was running in the lead pack for most of the race.
Bowman and Byron have led 39 and 31 laps respectively, second and third most among all Chevy drivers. Chase Elliott has led only eight laps on the year, Johnson zero.
They’re not quite there yet still on contending for race victories, but they’re trending in the right direction. They’ll get there soon.