It’s out with the old and in with the new for the Hendrick Motorsports team.
The days of the Rainbow Warriors, Mountain Dew and Team Lowe’s themed Chevrolets have come to an end. It seems as if team owner Rick Hendrick has a different, and perhaps younger, vision for his four-car team.
These rising NASCAR stars have major shoes to fill.
The team began to shift this direction beginning with Jeff Gordon’s retirement in 2015. The 2017 season was full of major changes for Hendrick Motorsports, including the retirement of the fan-favorite driver for 15 years in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as the departure of Kasey Kahne.
Hendrick allocated these spots by providing rides to three fresh faces. 22-year-old Chase Elliott, son of Winston Cup Champion Bill Elliott, took Gordon’s place in the no. 24 car in 2016. However, in the current 2019 season, Elliott is driving the no. 9 car as William Byron, 20, drives the no. 24. Alex Bowmen, 25, is driving the no. 88, formerly known as Earnhardt Jr.’s car.
With three of the four Hendrick cars being fulfilled with these young drivers, there is only one veteran driver.
That would be the seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
However, this scenario could be short-lived. The reformation of the Hendrick team was taken a step further when Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus split ways after the 2018 season.
After 589 career starts, 81 wins, and seven championships, five of which were historically consecutive, Johnson and Knaus announced on October 10, 2018 that their 17-year partnership would be coming to an end.
What has this meant for the former dynamic duo?
As for Knaus, he did not go too far. In fact, he is currently William Byron’s crew chief.
And what will this mean for Johnson? Moreover, what will this mean for the future of Hendrick Motorsports?
It is debatable that Johnson’s retirement is drawing near. Lowe’s, Johnson’s former primary sponsor, also parted ways with the no. 48 team after the 2018 season. In response to the departure of Lowe’s, Johnson stated he is “not done.”
So far, Johnson has continued his career with Kevin Meendering, his new crew chief, and Ally Insurance, his new sponsor.
However, if both splits are prerequisites for Johnson to retire soon, someone will have to drive the no. 48 car. And that driver could potentially be another millennial.
The Up and Coming
Chase Elliott won Rookie of the Year in 2016, and inherited the Most Popular Driver award from Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Some individuals began to refer to William Byron as “The New Jimmie Johnson” after his outstanding 2017 Xfinity series debut and championship win.
Bowman’s cup career has been off to a strong start, as he progressed all the way to the Round of 12 in his first season.
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson has not earned a win since the Dover race in June of 2017.
Although the future holds promise for these new faces, the successes of the veterans of Hendrick Motorsports must not be forgotten. Winning at every track, winning fan favorite 15 times, and winning five championships in a row are pivotal moments in NASCAR history that may not repeat themselves.
So, will these young drivers be able to follow in the footsteps of the renowned drivers of Hendrick Motorsports?
Only time will tell.