It was a long, sunny afternoon for Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers Jimmie Johnson and William Byron at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 9, that resulted in both competitors struggling for the majority of the race despite starting towards the front. When the checkered flag flew, both HMS competitors salvaged top-12 results and remain in a battle against one another for a Playoff spot with the postseason nearing its starting phase.
For Byron, his race started off on a high note when he moved up to start on the front row due to multiple cars starting at the rear of the field. When the green flag waved, the Charlotte native battled hard with Clint Bowyer for the field on the opening lap before the latter prevailed. Even though he never made a bid for the lead, Byron kept his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE towards the front and running inside the top five. When the first stage concluded, he was scored in sixth place as he collected a handful of stage points towards the Playoffs. Jumping to second place for the start of the second stage, Byron dropped out of the top five and continued to downslide throughout the run. By the time the second stage concluded, he had fallen all the way back to 17th. Restarting 14th for the final stage under 65 laps remaining, he spent the majority of the run inside the top 15 before making a late charge for a top-10 spot. When the checkered flag flew, however, Byron crossed the line in 12th place. Despite the struggles throughout the race, Byron’s 15th top-10 result of this season kept him and his No. 24 team 26 points above the top-16 cutline, with Byron holding sole possession of the 16th and final transfer spot to the Playoffs with four regular-season races remaining.
“Hard fought day for us at Michigan today and this weekend overall really,” Byron said. “After this weekend, we came out of Michigan with a bit larger of a points gap than we started, which is good. Hopefully we can go on to the road course at Daytona and keep building that point buffer. I think we’re really good at road courses so hopefully, we can run well there despite it being an unknown. I’m looking forward to it though and the challenge it will bring. I will definitely be doing a lot of iRacing this week to get ready for it.”
Teammate Johnson also had a long run that ended up with a decent result. Starting in the second row, Johnson was competitive at the start of the race as he muscled his way into the runner-up spot. Following the first 15 laps, however, he had fallen back to seventh after he got loose in Turn 3 and lost a handful of spots. From there, Johnson and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE continued to slide backwards as he dropped out of the top 10. He was unable to work his way back into the top 10 as he concluded the first stage on Lap 40 in 11th, missing an opportunity of collecting a stage point by one position. Despite starting in fourth place for the second stage, the seven-time champion continued to struggle with keeping pace with the leaders. When the second stage concluded on Lap 85, he was scored in 14th. Johnson struggled at the start of the final stage, falling back towards the top 20, but he rallied back into the top 15 as the run progressed. Even though he had a shot for a top-10 finish in the closing laps, it was not enough as Johnson finished in 11th place in his 38th and final run at Michigan. With his 12th top-15 result of this season, Johnson is tied with Erik Jones in being 26 points below the cutline as he attempts to make his final postseason appearance in his swan song season of full-time racing.
“We put up a good fight today,” Johnson said. “Track position was important, and we fought the balance most of the day. I’m looking forward to the [Daytona] road course and both Dover races.”
For the remaining half of Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car lineup, Chase Elliott was the lone Hendrick competitor to finish in the top 10 (ninth) while Alex Bowman ended his race in 36th following tire issues.
Byron and Johnson, along with their teammates and fellow competitors, will return for next weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series inaugural race on the Daytona International Speedway road course layout, which will occur on August 16 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.