BRISTOL, Tenn. – Eyes forward. Keep racing.
That’s what the drivers at Hendrick Motorsports have continued to do, as all four teams have dealt with on-track obstacles throughout the first seven races — all while trying to find a handle on the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 body introduced this season.
Monday’s top-five finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway from Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman are steps in the right direction, but it’s not a total surprise for those behind the wheel. Especially for the in-house veteran Johnson, who has been open about his on-track struggles so far in 2018.
“We’ve been talking about our cars performing better and driving better and creating speed the last three weeks or so,” Johnson told the media after the Food City 500, “but to finally back it up with a solid finish is exactly what we needed. And to see my teammates with positive comments about their cars the last few weeks and some good results yielding from all of that, we definitely have it rolling in the right direction.”
A third-place finish for the seven-time champion is Johnson’s best run of the season, and his 12th top-five finish at the .533-mile track. Taking to social media with inspirational quotes to combat difficult stretches, the driver of the No. 48 entered Bristol 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, the worst statistical start of his 17-year career.
Yet, momentum has a funny way of sneaking in and changing up the course.
“… If things seem to be going wrong, they continue for a while,” he said. “Sometime it’ll turn around, you just don’t know when. And I think in most cases, you’re right.
“I have experienced it in my career where we have had different dry spells, and we’ll get the car going well, and I’ll make a mistake, or the car going well and we have a bad pit stop, or just unlucky, and it takes a little while — I can’t explain why or how, but it takes a little while to get the momentum rolling in the right direction, and I think today was — the last two days was a big step in the right direction for us.”
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Bowman piloted a career-best fifth-place finish at Bristol — an accomplishment he hopes the No. 88 team can build on heading into Richmond as he looks for his first career win at the sport’s highest level.
The 24-year-old driver improved three spots from his eighth-place qualifying position, and is currently 13th in the series standings.
“… Just thankful for driving for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said post-race. “It’s been a lot of fun finally getting some good runs going our way. It’s been cool. To run fifth, it’s not a great day, but it’s better than what we started the year doing. We are making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.”
Rookie William Byron finished 18th in his first premier-series showing at Bristol. Chase Elliott, who was involved in an early wreck on Sunday, finished 29th to round out the Hendrick Motorsports stable.