Hendrick Motorsports has Superb Sunday at Daytona, Sweeping Qualifying and The Clash
The first weekend of on-track action in Daytona proved to be a near-perfect effort for Hendrick Motorsports. The 4-car team had superb results on Sunday, sweeping the top 4 sports in Daytona 500 qualifying, as well as taking the victory in The Clash. These results come as HMS made a big crew chief change over the off season, splitting up Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
HMS Dominates 500 Qualifying
As the 4-time defending Daytona 500 pole-winning team, Hendrick cars were looking to add a 5th-straight pole. All 4 HMS entries, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and William Byron set the fastest lap times, knocking each other off the provisional pole. At the end of the final round, it was the 24 car of Byron atop the scoring pylon. Byron’s pole time was 46.31, putting the 24 on pole for the 4th time in the last 5 years at the Daytona 500.
Starting to Byron’s outside will be the 88 of HMS teammate Alex Bowman. Bowman was the polesitter at the 2018 Daytona 500, in his first full year at HMS. Behind the 24 and 88 in the time trials were both the 9 of Chase Elliott, and the 48 of Jimmie Johnson. However, only the top 2 positions were secured in this session. Elliott, Johnson and everyone else will race for their starting spot in the Duels on Thursday.
Hendrick Motorsports did not simply get the top 4 spots, they obliterated the competition. Johnson initially took the provisional pole by a margin of 1 tenth. At the end of the session though, Byron’s time was more than 3 tenths ahead of any non-HMS car. Could this superb showing in qualifying lead to a a strong showing next Sunday?
Johnson Wins 2nd Career Clash in Rain-Shortened Event
Immediately following Daytona 500 Qualifying was The Advance Auto Parts Clash. The 20-man, 75 lap exhibition race is a test of a driver’s patience and timing. One badly timed move can send a driver from challenging for the lead to the end of the train.
Paul Menard started The Clash on the pole, due to the random drawing. The 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang showed plenty of speed. Coupled with the corporate teammates at Penske, the Fords looked unbeatable. Despite 2 brief rain delays, Menard maintained the lead up until the closing laps.
Clash Ends in 17-Car Big One
With 16 laps to go, Menard was up front, ahead of Jimmie Johnson, and rain was closing in again. Johnson made a move to the inside of Menard going down the backstretch, aggressively side drafting. The 2 made contact, sending the 21 sideways ahead of the field. This version of ‘the big one’ involved 17 cars in total. Under the caution, rain would return, with a downpour. The race would be called 16 laps early, giving Jimmie Johnson the win.
While it does not count as a points-paying win, the 2019 Clash marks Jimmie Johnson’s first win since June of 2017. Without a doubt, Johnson’s career-longest winless streak played into his aggressive move towards the end of the race. Johnson was quick to take responsibility for the big crash to end the race.
“Knowing the rain was coming — we could see it coming, I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” Johnson said. “I had a great ride down the back. I got below him before he blocked it. And then I think he came down a little to defend and block. I got that move inside of him and was hopeful [Kurt Busch] would follow me through. Certainly hate to see all these cars torn up. I’m here and making my move. I’m there and then he just starts coming over. I think it was more of a racing thing than anything.”
A Sign of Things to Come for Hendrick?
In the first Sunday of on-track action for 2019, Hendrick Motorsports had a superb showing. Considered the most unexpected and radical team change of the off season, splitting up the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus has paid off so far. Knaus’ car is the Daytona 500 pole winner, while Johnson is back in victory lane. Only time will tell if this early success for both the 24 and 48 teams can lead to more consistency and performance throughout 2019.