Hendrick Motorsports 2018 NASCAR Team Preview

After losing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon to retirement within the past three seasons, Hendrick Motorsports adds two new faces to their 2018 lineup.

Chase Elliott switches to No. 9, in honor of his father Bill Elliott, for the 2018 season. (World Copyright: Matthew T. Thacker, NKP)

Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson)

2017 stats: 5th in points, 0 wins, 12 top fives, 21 top tens, 1 pole, 2 playoff points

2017 recap: There was no sophomore slump for Chase Elliott last season. Sure, the No. 24 team didn’t find victory lane while two of his teammates did but Elliott was the most consistent team at Hendrick Motorsports for the duration of the season. Elliott looked not only on his way to his first career victory but also a Championship 4 berth at Martinsville. That was until the final laps when Denny Hamlin moved him out of the way for the race lead and ended his chance. At Phoenix, Elliott retaliated against Hamlin to the delight of many fans. For many, those two incidents will be how Elliott’s 2017 season will be remembered.

2018 outlook: Elliott is switching to car No. 9, in honor of his father Bill Elliott, for the 2018 season. Everything else for Elliott stays the same, which means, anything short of victory and a Championship 4 visit might be considered a disappointment for Elliott. That’s something Elliott realizes and wants to avoid for team owner Rick Hendrick.

“He’s had a reputation, his company, of winning – winning championships, winning races,” Elliott said of Rick Hendrick. “I haven’t really done that for him. I’d love to do my part. I don’t feel like I have to this point – earn my place, earn my keep there at Hendrick Motorsports.”

The sky is the limit for Elliott in 2018 and a win, or two, wouldn’t be out of the question.

Jimmie Johnson enters the 2018 season seeking his eighth championship. (World Copyright: John K Harrelson/NKP)

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Chad Knaus)

2017 stats: 10th in points, 3 wins, 4 top fives, 11 top tens, 0 poles, 16 playoff points

2017 recap:  After earning his record-tying seventh championship in 2016, Jimmie Johnson’s title defense didn’t amount to much. Johnson scored three wins on the season, all three were before the middle of June. That meant that Jimmie Johnson was shut out of victory lane for the first time in his career after the month of June. Johnson and his team also failed to make it past the second round in the playoffs and finished behind teammate Chase Elliott in the final standings.

2018 outlook: Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will look to rebound in 2018 in a season where Johnson finds himself as the oldest full-time drive in the Cup Series. Expectations will be the same for Johnson: multiple wins and a trip to the Championship 4. After witnessing Johnson’s season in 2017, those expectations seems a little high. Then again, it’s Jimmie Johnson. Add in Chevrolet’s new Camaro ZL1 race car and the expectations surrounding that, and there’s a recipe for a possible eighth championship.

Alex Bowman replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired last year, for the 2018 season. (World Copyright: Matthew T. Thacker, NKP)

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Greg Ives)

2017 stats: Did not run full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

2017 recap: Alex Bowman ran just two NASCAR races in 2017 but made the most of them. Bowman drove the No. 42 car in the Xfinity Series for Chip Ganassi Racing and won in his first start at Charlotte.  “It was very encouraging to be out of a car for seven months and then right off the bat get a win,” Bowman said. “I think it just proves that I can come out of the box strong and gave me a lot of confidence this offseason.”

2018 outlook: Bowman will be taking over the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr. but this won’t be the first time he’s behind the wheel. In 2016, Bowman piloted the No. 88 car for ten races as Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined after suffering a concussion Michigan International Speedway. Now Bowman takes over the wheel full-time and for the first time in his career, has top-level equipment to showcase his talent.

Bowman will have some big shoes to fill in 2018 and there will certainly be some pressure for him to perform. Bowman is already thinking wins and talking about championships, which is what many in JR Nation will want to see. “Well, they hired me to go win races and contend for championships, and that is what I plan on doing,” Bowman said.

William Byron moves up to the Cup Series for the 2018 season and takes over the famous No. 24 car. (World Copyright: Matthew T. Thacker, NKP)

William Byron, No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet (Crew Chief: Darian Grubb)

2017 stats: Did not run full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

2017 recap: William Byron won the Xfinity Series Championship for JR Motorsports in 2017 after notching four wins in his rookie season in the series. His four wins came at four completely different tracks: Iowa, Daytona, Indianapolis and Phoenix. After the second race of the season, Byron was inside the top-three in the standings the rest of the way, showing there wasn’t much of a learning curve for him as he made the jump up from the Truck Series.

2018 outlook: Byron will be taking over the iconic No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports in his rookie season in NASCAR’s highest level. All eyes will be on Byron and if he can make the transition from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series look just as easy as his previous two. During preseason testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Byron was happy to finally get behind the wheel.

“Honestly it was just exciting just to get in the car and be able to experience this for the first time,” Byron said. “It’s been a lot of fun just learning the guys and just being in the car, really. So, I’m enjoying it and just trying to take it all in.”

Expectations will be high after scoring 11 wins in the last two seasons in the Xfinity and Truck series. A win and a playoff berth shouldn’t be a surprise if it happens.

Follow Matt on Twitter, @mattlovisa.

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