The start of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season started off frustrating for the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp. It took until the fourth race of the season for any of their four drivers to get a top five finish. Unfortunately though, that result was later taken away for an L-1 violation. Through the first seven races of the year, all four HMS drivers struggled. The top driver in terms of average finishing position was Alex Bowman with a 16.28 result. Chase Elliott was next best with a 16.5. Jimmie Johnson was actually worst with a 21.4 while rookie William Byron was just ahead of the seven time champ with a 17.85.
As you can see, they were consistently a 16th to 22nd place contender. Bowman, had just one top 10 finish through the first seven races in his No. 88 Chevrolet. Byron, had one top 10 but it took the seventh race of the year to get it. Elliott, had three top 10’s but also two finishes of 33rd or worse. Johnson, had one top 10 finish and three finishes of 27th or worse.
Then Bristol happened.
We can point to Bristol as the turning point of the 2018 season for them. That’s where the 16th to 22nd place finishes started to improve to 10th to 15th place finishes. Over the last eight races, starting with Bristol, Johnson and Elliott now lead with way with average finishes of 10.25 and 11.0 respectively. That’s a huge improvement. Bowman and Byron actually went backwards a little bit with averages of 18.5 and 22.0 respectively. But, that’s a bit expected out of a rookie driver in Byron with just two full seasons in NASCAR under his belt. Bowman, is in his first year with top notch equipment and doing so in a rebuild of Hendrick in total.
When the top drivers improve, well that’s a great thing.
Johnson, has five top 10 finishes in his No. 48 Chevrolet over the last eight races. Three of those five were in the top six in fact. Meanwhile, Elliott has a runner-up and third place finish to go along with seven straight top 12 results. He had four in the first seven races, so he doubled that stat in nearly the same amount of races to do so in.
Byron, has consistently been a 12th to 20th place car with five of his last eight finishes being in that range. He had the same amount in the first seven events. Bowman, has is in the same boat with six top 20’s in the first seven races and six more in the next eight.
The progress is showing across the board.
Now though, it’s time for that to jump up again. Elliott and Johnson need to take the next step and start battling for top fives on a consistent basis. Bowman and Byron need to move up to where Johnson and Elliott are now. If they can do that and do so by the time we get to August, then watch out for this organization in the playoffs.