Will Team Hendrick steal the show at the Brickyard?
If there ever was a good place for Jimmie Johnson to break his 84-race winless streak, or for young teammate William Byron to earn his first career NASCAR Cup win, it’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.
Say what you want about Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance this season, the 2.5-mile Brickyard has definitely been a Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports track.
In the 25 prior editions of the Brickyard 400, Chevy has won 17 times, with 10 of those coming from Hendrick drivers: five by Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, four by Johnson and one by Kasey Kahne, who won in 2017. That equals 40% of all Brickyard 400 races since the first in 1994 (won by Gordon). No other Cup team has more than five total wins in Indy (Joe Gibbs Racing).
Indianapolis is one of 13 NASCAR tracks where HMS has reached 10 wins. In addition, three different HMS drivers have won three of the last seven editions of the 400. And over the 25-year history, of 94 collective starts in the Brickyard by all HMS drivers, nearly half – 40 – have ended up with top-10 finishes.
To extrapolate that even further, Hendrick Motorsports has never gone more than three years without a Brickyard win in the quarter-century existence of the 400-mile race there.
While Johnson needs no additional motivation to do well Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC) to assure he makes the playoffs, here’s a few other facts the driver of the No. 48 Chevy should keep in mind:
* The winner of the 400 has gone on to win the championship nine times in that same season: Johnson three times; Jeff Gordon twice; Kyle Busch, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart once.
* Of the seven Cup championships Johnson has earned in his career, he went on to win the title in three of the four years he won at Indianapolis.
Given that Sunday is the final race of the 26-race regular season and will finalize the 16-driver field for the Cup playoffs, Hendrick Motorsports is sitting pretty coming in with three of its four drivers already qualified for the post-season: Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman.
“We go to a lot of places that we are really strong at and there are a lot of good tracks for us in the playoffs,” Bowman said. “We have a lot of work to do I think, but I think the tracks that suit us can be very good. Starting at a place like Vegas, going back to Kansas and Dover, we are going to a lot of tracks that are good for us so we should be really strong. I think a lot of it is building momentum these two weeks after the off weekend.”
Added Elliott: “Our number one goal is to get better at Indy and run better more consistently. That’s the main goal. It is such a special place that we want to run well. You want to run well everywhere you go, but especially at Indy.”
Johnson, who is 18 points out of the final playoff spot, is the only Hendrick driver who remains uncertain to make the playoffs. If he does not, it would mark the first time in his career that he missed a chance for the championship.
No one has to tell him what’s at stake Sunday.
“We are running out of days and if we miss it, it’s just going to be by a few I believe,” Johnson said. “If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. So, it’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy. But it is what it is and we are going to go there to win a race.”
That may be the only way to assure his playoff streak continues.