After a disappointing 2018 campaign, Hendrick Motorsports looks to 2019 to rebound and make a stronger playoff run.
Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson)
2018 stats: 6th in points, 3 wins, 11 top fives, 21 top tens, 1 pole, 19 playoff points
2018 recap: Last season was the year that Elliott finally broke through and earned his first Cup Series victory. Not only did he win one race, but he won a total of three races.
Elliott was the only other Chevrolet driver besides Austin Dillon to find victory lane in 2018. A year when the Chevrolets were down, Elliott found a way to win the most races of any Chevrolet driver and also finish the highest in the season ending point standings.
2019 outlook: Elliott outperformed much of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates throughout the season and was the lone bright spot for the Chevrolet contingent. Winning more than three races seems a bit out of reach but given Elliott’s ability, it may not seem too far of a reach at all.
Elliott acknowledges that the success from last year might not carry over. “It’s nice to have won a couple races, but I’m not sure how much of that you can really ride into the next year,” Elliott said on his team’s website.
“Things that happen in October are hard to carry all the way to February and Daytona, but I do think some of that confidence that was gained in our team and being able to close out races were nice.”
If Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson continue to work well together and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 improves from last year, Elliott could be in the conversation to reach Homestead with a chance at a championship.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Kevin Meendering)
2018 stats: 14th in points, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 11 top tens, 0 poles, 0 playoff points
2018 recap: The drop off from Elliott to the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates is steep. Case in point, Jimmie Johnson’s 2018 season. For the first time in his career he failed to win a race during a season.
He also only scored two top-5 finishes, third best among Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs, even though he desperately tried to at the Charlotte Roval. In his final season with Lowe’s and crew chief Chad Knaus, the No. 48 team couldn’t quite find the lucky horseshoe.
2019 outlook: A sponsor, paint scheme and crew chief are all the new things awaiting Jimmie Johnson in 2019. His new crew chief will be Kevin Meendering who served as crew chief for Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports since 2016. Ally Financial is the new sponsor and with that comes a new look.
Changing almost everything but the number on the door should help Johnson forget about 2018 and focus on securing his eighth championship. Expectations for a successful season would be at least a win and advancing to the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
Alex Bowman, No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Greg Ives)
2018 stats: 16th in points, 0 wins, 3 top fives, 11 top tens, 1 pole, 0 playoff points
2018 recap: Bowman returned the No. 88 to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. The season started off well with a pole in the Daytona 500 and a top-5 finish in the spring Bristol race. But it took Bowman more than 10 more races to earn his next top-5 finish.
There were bright spots for Bowman along the way. Leading 26 laps in back-to-back races at Talladega and Dover. In the end, Bowman struggled to find speed like many of his Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet counterparts.
2019 outlook: Bowman will race full-time in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. That sense of familiarness should help him and crew chief Greg Ives make some positive strides.
“I think the biggest thing in ’19 is I’m not concerned about the playoffs or points or any of that,” Bowman said on the team’s website. “I want to go contend for wins and win races. We really didn’t do that in 2018 and that was the biggest let down for me. So, I want to go run up front and build off that and go win some races.”
Another trip to the playoffs would be a successful season for Bowman and his No. 88 team. Increasing top-5 and top-10 finishes will be key to having a chance at making a playoff push and deeper run.
William Byron, No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Chad Knaus)
2018 stats: 23rd in points, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 4 top tens, 0 poles, 0 playoff points
2018 recap: Byron’s first year in the Cup Series resulted in winning Rookie of the Year Honors. For the most part, that was the biggest highlight. Byron didn’t find as much success as he did when he first started in the Trucks and then Xfinity Series. That can be expected when racing against the best stock car drivers in the country.
2019 outlook: The new rules package might benefit a driver such as Byron, who has only had one season behind the wheel of a high-powered Cup Series car. Two of his four wins in the Xfinity Series came at tracks where they ran the reduced horsepower package.
The learning curve to the Cup Series will still be steep for Byron in 2019. A successful season would include a top-20 finish in the standings and earning at least one top-5 finish.
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