NASCAR

Hendrick feels vindicated by NASCAR Cup Daytona 500 qualifying

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Hendrick Motorsports feels vindicated by its domination of Daytona 500 qualifying after its tough 2018 NASCAR Cup season, according to team owner Rick Hendrick.

Last year Chase Elliott was the only one of Hendrick’s four drivers to win Cup races, while the team’s seven-time champion lead driver Jimmie Johnson went winless and split with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus.

On Sunday Knaus’s new driver William Byron led Alex Bowman, Johnson and Elliott in a Hendrick Chevrolet 1-2-3-4 in Daytona 500 qualifying, before Johnson won the non-championship Clash race.

“It’s really valuable,” said Hendrick, whose team has now taken pole for the past five straight 500s.

“It’s really neat for the sponsors to say, ‘Hey, we like these young guys and we’re going to support them’.

“It’s really good for Chad to come out of the box with William to sit on the front row.

“It’s a big morale booster. It’s no secret we didn’t have the year we wanted last year. No matter what happens, we get to celebrate this for a week.”

The four Hendrick cars were covered by 0.125 seconds in qualifying, with fifth-quickest Daniel Hemric’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet over three tenths behind fourth-placed Elliott.

“When I had a car in the back, one in the front, one in the middle of qualifying, then you have to answer to sponsors – ‘Why aren’t you giving them the same stuff?'” said Hendrick.

“So this year to have them right on top of each other just means that the organisation did a heck of a job.

“To be fast here, it takes everything. You’re stacking pennies in the engine shop. They work really hard. And you find a horsepower here and one there.

“The cars were just dead equal in the windtunnel. The engines were within one horsepower. That’s hard to do.”

Johnson’s Clash win was controversial, achieved via a collision with long-time leader Paul Menard that caught up most of the field behind.

Though Johnson admitted he would not truly consider his win drought over until he had triumphed in a championship round, he said the qualifying performance and Clash victory were important boosts in his first event with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

“Points races are different, but we’ll take this. We still need a points race win to say we’ve been back to Victory Lane,” said Johnson.

“It’s a great first step. Just a really big day for the #48 team, and just building the confidence that we’re going to need to carry into the season.

“Somebody came up with a great idea of ‘who’s going to win first, Jimmie or Chad?’ And then the pressure: can we win again?

“To work through that and to win just kind of helps with some of that outside pressure on where the team is.

“Internally, we’ve only talked about winning races. I’m far from done.”

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