BROOKLYN, Mich. – Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway was challenging for a variety of reasons. Following several late-race cautions, it became a fight to the finish line while saving fuel.
At the end of the day, Hendrick Motorsports was able to garner three top-10 finishes at the track in the Irish Hills.
William Byron started Sunday’s 400-mile event from the second row. Throughout the race he was able to finish in the top 10 in both stages to gain valuable points. Ultimately, the 21-year-old driver led his teammates to the checkered flag in eighth place, notching the eighth top-10 finish of his sophomore season after earning four in all of 2018.
“Honestly, I thought we tried a little different approach today and our car was just really hard to handle,” Byron said. “We struggled in traffic a lot. But, to come out with a top-10 is good. I feel like we ran in and around there. We just struggled on restarts. But, not bad overall.”
Byron credited his seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus for the calls made during the 200-lap event, as the No. 24 team has now earned solid finishes in two of the past three weeks.
“We’ve finished in the top 10 in two out of three,” the driver said. “That’s great, and we can really build on that. Chad just calls really solid races.”
Teammate Chase Elliott’s day was similar to Byron’s. Both drivers were able to capture top-10 stage finishes and complete the race in the top 10 as well. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native fought for a top-five finish but toward the end of the race he tried to keep the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 from running out of fuel. Ultimately, the low fuel had the car crossing the finish line just behind the No. 24 car in ninth.
“We finally got our car going pretty good there at the end and then ran out of gas on that last lap,” Elliott explained. “I just needed to save a little better after the caution.”
Alex Bowman made Sunday’s finish a back-to-back-to-back one for Hendrick Motorsports by taking the checkered flag right behind his two teammates in 10th. In the final laps the driver followed many of the other drivers in the field by trying to save fuel until the end of the race, and overall he considered it a solid day.
“We had a really good car in practice and just took off really right there in the race and nothing touched it,” Bowman said. “It was really tight. It was on the splitter all day. Track position was so key. A lot of opportunities to take a big swing at it and (No. 88 team crew chief) Greg (Ives) did a good job calling the race.”
Things fared a bit different for Jimmie Johnson, who began Sunday’s 400-mile event in 10th. Just 15 laps in, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 headed to pit road after contact with the wall resulted in a flat tire and damage to his race car. He returned to the track two laps down, but on Lap 26, he headed back to pit road for more adjustments after his earlier damage, putting him seven laps down. He was unable to make up the laps and finished the race in 34th.
“The right-side tires went into the PJ1 and as soon as I got my tires in it, I went straight into the wall,” Johnson said. “When you’re aggressive, it doesn’t work and then sometimes you’re cautious and it doesn’t work. It was a great car. That hurt, for sure.”
Johnson is currently 18th in the point standings, 12 points behind the 16th-place driver, which would be the last competitor to make the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
“We’re just going to have to rally on and these guys are doing an amazing job,” he said. “We’ll keep digging.”
The Michigan race was full of action and next week certainly won’t be short on excitement as the teammates take on the Bristol Motor Speedway night race on Saturday, Aug. 17, on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.