Only 16 teams will advance to the playoff round of the final 10 races of the season that will eventually crown this season’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and for Hendrick Motorsports there are only four races for the organization to put all four of its teams in the playoff field. Chase Elliott once again showed on Sunday at Watkins Glenn that he is now the flag bearer for HMS as the organization continues to climb its way back to the point that it once enjoyed as being a threat to not only win at any stop on the schedule but also a serious player in each season’s title chase.
Elliott was able to back up his win at the road course last season as he held off a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. during the closing laps to notch his second win of the season.
He leads all four HMS drivers in the point standings as he is firmly in eighth place. He is also in a good position in the all-important Playoff Point totals as he has four stage wins to go with his two checkered flags to give him 14 points which is good enough for sixth place.
Those points transfer with a driver throughout the three rounds of the playoffs and as we have seen in the past can be the difference between a driver advancing to the next round or being eliminated.
Elliott is the not the only HMS driver to visit victory lane this season as he is joined by teammate Alex Bowman who won his first ever MENCS race earlier in the season at Chicagoland Speedway. The win automatically puts him into the playoff field but he has also shown consistency especially of late that has him sitting in eleventh in the points.
Following Bowman in the point standings in 12th is HMS’ William Byron who is still looking for his first win of not only this season but also of his career. He sits 60 points above the cutoff line at this point and should be in good shape to advance into the playoff round. He has the benefit of having Chad Knaus as his crew chief who will show up at the final four races of the regular season at Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis with a strategy that will ensure the driver of the famed No. 24 Chevrolet will be in a position to collect as many points possible to advance into the playoffs.
HMS’s Jimmie Johnson was once a fixture in the playoffs every season and his seven series titles show that he was not only a fixture to be in the title hunt, he was the driver to beat. What a difference a few years can make as he is now in a fight to just secure the final transfer spot of sixteenth in the point standings.
HMS made a move last week that has never happened in Johnson’s 18 seasons as a full time driver in the series as Cliff Daniels was named crew chief replacing Kevin Meendering who was in his first year with Johnson. Daniels first joined Johnson’s team in 2014 and remained there until being reassigned within the organization following the 2018 season. He rejoined the team as race engineer last month at Sonoma Raceway.
The duo’s first race together on Sunday did not produce the kind of finish that they were hoping for as Johnson finished nineteenth but the team did leave the New York track gaining one spot in the points. He will now head to Michigan this weekend in final transfer spot of 16th with no breathing room as he is actually tied Ryan Newman with 544 points but earns the position because of the tie breakers that NASCAR uses.
The pressure will only rise over the next four races for Daniels and Johnson but expect HMS to put every resource it has behind the pair to make sure that it gets all four teams into the playoff round.