HAMPTON, Ga. – If Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying is any indication, Hendrick Motorsports has work to do.
Of the 34 drivers who posted times in the knockout sessions, Daytona 500 pole winner Alex Bowman was 18th fastest, and that was the best performance among the four HMS entries.
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 22nd, followed by Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron in 23rd and Chase Elliott in 27th.
Asked what he and his team missed in preparation for the time trials, Elliott had a succinct answer.
“Everything, I think,” he said. “Some days you do, and some days you don’t, and we didn’t today. So, I don’t know. We were way off—not even close.
“So, I don’t really have much of an excuse for it. We just didn’t hit it right today, and we’ll go to work tonight and work through it and hopefully get ready for (Saturday’s practice). It’s our only option now.”
On the other hand, qualifying was a relative success for Kasey Kahne, who landed a ride in the Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet after Byron took over Kahne’s former seat at Hendrick. Kahne failed to advance to the final round of qualifying by a mere .074 seconds and will start 14th in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
“We picked-up in the second round, which I thought was nice,” Kahne said. “It’s tough to do. I don’t feel great, but I doubt anybody does on this surface. But it’s been an interesting day just trying to understand.
“It’s a different car and a lot of different things going on. We’re trying to understand that. Working with the guys has been good, but we have a long way to go. So we’ll keep after it.”
Undoubtedly, the Hendrick drivers feel the same way. They just have farther to go after a qualifying session that saw only one of their cars earn a spot in the front half of the field.
Johnson was sixth fastest in final practice on Saturday, but his teammates continued to struggle. Bowman was 17th in Happy Hour, followed by Byron in 26th and Elliott in 28th.