Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports
Motor Racing Network | 3 months ago

There's a youth movement at Hendrick Motorsports, as the perennial powerhouse gets ready for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Newcomers William Byron and Alex Bowman replace the departed Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and join holdovers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott in team owner Rick Hendrick's four-car stable.

The change makes the 42-year-old Johnson the elder statesman of the group and surrounded by a trio of 20-somethings.

"It's so wild," Johnson joked. "I went from the young gun, and every time I'd see my name written it was, 'rookie Jimmie Johnson,' and I swear, in a blink of an eye, now I'm grandpa. It's going fast."

But Johnson, who won three races last season but was eliminated from Championship 4 contention during the playoffs, is looking forward to both rebounding this year as well as playing mentor to his new teammates.

"I remember watching Jeff (Gordon) in moments and then telling him that I just learned something from him," Johnson said about what he learned as a younger teammate to the future Hall of Famer. "And he was like, 'What? Really? How did you learn anything there? I wasn't trying to teach you anything.' So I think first and foremost, the way I carry myself - leading by example would be another way to put it - is very useful and helpful.

"And those three guys are very aware and have been studying me for a long time, so, surprisingly, they kind of know what I'm up to, what I'm about."

Elliott begins his fourth season in the Cup Series and returns with veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. His car will carry the famous family No. 9 but nothing else has changed, including Elliott's determination to score his first career Cup victory and compete for a championship.

"Our team really ended the season disappointed for the opportunities we missed over those final weeks and not making it to Homestead after being so close a couple of times," said Elliott, who had five second place finishes last year with four coming during the playoffs. "But to run like we did, the way we did over those last 10 weeks, was better than I've ever run in the Cup Series to this point. It was a lot of fun to be able to run like that.

"To be able to compete for wins, run up front, come down pit road and have the pit stops that we did. Everything was clicking pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. I think we'll have good things to build on for next year. I think we're in a good place."

Byron moves up to NASCAR's top tier on the heels of his XFINITY Series championship last season with JR Motorsports. He takes the former Kahne seat in a car that will change from the No. 5 to No. 24 and will have long-time crew chief Darian Grubb calling the shots.

The 20-year-old phenom plans to make the most of his opportunity.

"It's definitely going to be a big challenge,'' Byron said. "There are a lot of new things that I have to think about and approach differently, but I think this year is going to be a really good year for us. We have a great team, and I feel like everyone at Hendrick is ready to get to the race track. There's a lot of excitement and new things that we're approaching.

"This is really a dream come true to be part of the Cup series and be with a great race team that has a chance to win. I think, for us, we're going to try to win races. We have all the resources and tools to do that and we're trying to focus those in the right areas to make sure we're ready for the season."

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